Revised Wilson Budget Still Tied to Bailout

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attacking President Clinton, Congress and his likely Democratic opponent in the fall election, Gov. Pete Wilson on Friday released a revised budget proposal that continues to rely on a $3.1-billion infusion of new federal money that almost certainly will not happen.

Wilson, updating the $55-billion budget he proposed in January, also deleted $26.4 million that had been allotted for the state's controversial new public school testing program. The governor said he would approve the money if the Legislature can agree on a bill to overhaul the test.

Wilson also committed an additional $33 million to pay for the increasing costs of state prisons caused by the "three strikes" sentencing bill and added $10 million for several new programs aimed at reducing juvenile crime.

But for the most part, Wilson's spending plan remains unchanged. It still rests on the fragile hope that the federal government will come through with new funds--mostly to cover the state's cost of serving illegal immigrants--that would total nearly 10% of the state's general fund spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Despite signals from Washington that the state will receive nowhere near the amount Wilson has requested, the governor said it still is too early to "throw in the towel" and give up the effort to wrest the money from the federal government.

"There are politicians in Washington who must be pressured to do what they are obliged to do," Wilson said. "If we release the pressure, they will never, ever do it."

But in the first indication that he may relent before the next fiscal year begins, Wilson and his aides said the governor will release another revised plan in mid-June with a "realistic assessment" of the amount California can expect to receive for immigration services.

Although Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento appear willing to pass a budget with a hole in it for the federal government to fill, Wilson has been under attack for the idea by state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the leading Democratic candidate for governor.

Brown earlier this week called Wilson's budget proposal "a lie" and said his plan was the equivalent of the state managing its finances with the expectation of winning the "Clearinghouse Sweepstakes" contest.

White House officials say Wilson is overstating the problem by vastly inflating the number of illegal immigrants in California and is ignoring Clinton's efforts to stem immigration and help the state deal with its fiscal mess.

Wilson's comments Friday came after his office released the "May revision," an annual event in which the governor updates his January budget proposal. Release of the document traditionally triggers the first serious discussion of the budget in the Capitol.

This year, however, that discussion appears likely to be delayed until after the June 7 primary.

Wilson contends that it will cost the state $1.5 billion next year to educate illegal immigrant children, $400 million to provide emergency health care and $400 million to pay for prison cells for illegal immigrants convicted of felonies in California. He also is seeking an $800-million increase in the federal share for the state's health care program for the poor, a request that has nothing to do with illegal immigration.

If the federal money does not come through, Wilson said, the state will have to make "deep cuts, needless cuts" in just about every program but education, which is protected by the state Constitution. He does not want to make those cuts until it is clear that Washington will not respond favorably to the state's request, he said.

"We will have a budget," Wilson said. "I think we will have a budget on time. It will be an honest budget. But I'm damned if I'm going to let the people in Washington off the hook."

Wilson, who in the past has aimed his venom more at Congress than Clinton, this time took on the President, who was in Southern California on Friday and was scheduled to be in the Sacramento area today. Wilson has no plans to meet with Clinton during his two-day stay.

The governor said Clinton has conceded that the federal government is responsible for the immigration problem but has done too little to solve it.

"He understands the problem," Wilson said. "The understanding is clear. The commitment is not."

Clinton, Wilson said, did not create the problem. "He inherited it. But he has an obligation to show leadership."

Clinton last year made good on the federal government's commitment to pay for the cost of serving immigrants legalized under the federal amnesty program and this year has proposed $350 million nationwide for the cost to states of incarcerating illegal immigrants.

The White House maintains that it has increased aid to states for immigrant services 32% over what was provided by the George Bush Administration.

"We think this Administration has shown substantial leadership on this issue," said Tom Epstein, a White House political aide responsible for California matters. "The real battle is in Congress. The burden of leadership falls on the governor to persuade Congress to support the Administration's many initiatives to help states deal with the problems of illegal immigration."

White House officials also have noted that Wilson never made an issue of the immigration costs when Bush, a fellow Republican, was President.

Wilson also lashed into Treasurer Brown, who this week suggested that the state borrow $3 billion over five years to pay off its persistent budget deficit.

"What she has done is to suggest that we take a $3-billion obligation that is wrongly and unfairly imposed on the people of California by the federal government and that we simply suffer in silence," Wilson said.

He added: "She should fight. She should do everything possible to avoid having to do that. I'm not going to throw in the towel. I think she should explain why she thinks it's more important to protect the President than the people of California."

Brown did not respond to Wilson's barb but issued a statement condemning the governor's revised budget. She has supported the effort to win more federal funding but says it is irresponsible to rely on that money to balance the budget.

"Wilson's revised budget is hardly revised at all," Brown said. "It was a lie when it was proposed and it remains a lie today. Instead of fixing the problem, Wilson is now stalling for time on the political calendar."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°