White House

Obama’s budget plan serves California some familiar fare

Copies of President Barack Obama’s final budget proposal were on display on Capitol Hill early Tuesday morning.
Copies of President Barack Obama’s final budget proposal were on display on Capitol Hill early Tuesday morning. AP

California has a lot to chew over in the Obama administration’s final budget proposal, from money for a downtown Sacramento streetcar line to expansion of public lands in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The $4.1 trillion spending plan offers familiar funding levels for border control, Central Valley levees, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration and military base improvements.

It dedicates several million dollars to filling out checkerboard landownership within the El Dorado and Tahoe national forests and augmenting the Pacific Crest National Trail, and it includes money for levee projects in the flood-prone Natomas area of Sacramento.

“It is a bold, forward-looking plan for a new American future,” declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Parts of the plan are also down to earth, the epitome of routine. The budget includes, for instance, an additional $13.9 million to complete rehabilitation of the El Portal sewage system.

Other parts flow almost automatically because of the state’s population, such as the estimated $17.3 billion in Department of Veterans Affairs program spending and benefits anticipated to serve California’s 1.8 million veterans.

But the package, which spans more than 2,300 pages, also renews presidential ideas that invariably fall flat, from new agricultural inspection fees to cuts in reimbursements for states that incarcerate criminal aliens. Facing a Republican-controlled Congress, many proposals are simply dead on arrival.

“Our country doesn’t need more empty political posturing like the president’s budget,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program exemplifies how the budgetary gamesmanship plays out for California.

The program helps states and localities cover the cost of locking up immigrants who commit crimes while in the United States illegally. In fiscal 2015, for instance, the program provided $91,000 to San Luis Obispo County, $129,000 to Stanislaus County, $269,000 to Fresno County, $514,000 to Sacramento County and $44.1 million to the state of California.

Reprising a familiar theme, the Obama administration again proposes eliminating funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, thereby ostensibly saving some $210 million. Every year, prompted by lawmakers from deeply affected states such as California and Texas, Congress keeps the money flowing.

Lawmakers worried about illegal immigration, though, might be more sympathetic to the administration’s proposal to add 2,070 Customs and Border Protection officers.

As it does every year, the administration proposes an array of new fees that Congress appears likely to reject. The roughly 380 ranchers who graze livestock on Forest Service land in California, for instance, would have to pay a new monthly administrative fee of $2.50 per head. Lawmakers prefer to keep fees low, or nonexistent, for those using public land.

The administration likewise is reviving long-standing, politically inert proposals for charging new fees and royalties for hard-rock mining on federal lands. In California, the federal Bureau of Land Management reports having about 21,000 hard-rock mining claims, with operational plans covering about 24,000 acres.

Still, while many of the president’s proposals are nonstarters in Congress, advocates hope that the inclusion of projects will help give momentum to their completion. That includes $75 million toward the $150 million Sacramento streetcar project.

“Today’s announcement of substantial federal funding means we are one step closer to the realization of the Downtown Riverfront Streetcar Project,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said in an email.

The budget and an Army Corps of Engineers work plan likewise include some $32 million for construction of the Natomas levee improvement project in the Sacramento area, as well as money for Folsom Dam modifications and $70.5 million for dam safety improvements at Isabella Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

For drought-conscious California and other Western states, the administration proposes $23.4 million for WaterSMART grants, a modest boost from the current year. Previous grants from this program have aided, for instance, a Sacramento-area water company in installing canal gates to prevent spillage.

The six California members of the House Appropriations Committee, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Appropriations Committee, will now start crafting the fiscal 2017 appropriations bills required to operate the government starting Oct. 1.

Michael Doyle: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com, 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10

Sean Cockerham: scockerham@mcclatchydc.com, 202-383-6016, @seancockerham