Capitol Alert

Obama budget plan includes Sacramento, Folsom, Yosemite projects

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Homeland Security Department on Monday on his new budget proposal.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Homeland Security Department on Monday on his new budget proposal. The Associated Press

California gets its share, and then some, from the Obama administration’s $4 trillion budget proposal delivered Monday to a skeptical, Republican-controlled Congress.

There’s money for restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, likely to survive congressional winnowing. Proposed upgrades at places like Yosemite National Park will probably find Capitol Hill favor, as well, along with funding for Central Valley flood control and dam improvements.

The budget, for instance, offers $3.5 million to complete the Army Corps of Engineers’ design and engineering studies for protecting the Sacramento area’s Natomas Basin. It provides tens of millions of dollars to upgrade Folsom Dam northeast of Sacramento and improve the safety of the earthen Isabella Dam in eastern Kern County. These projects enjoy bipartisan support.

“The Natomas Levee Improvement Project is moving full steam ahead,” said an enthusiastic Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

But the president’s budget also includes more fanciful proposals, including some familiar spending cuts and fee increases that invariably fail. A renewed proposal to eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, for instance, would cut federal reimbursements for prisons and jails that incarcerate undocumented immigrants.

In fiscal 2014, California received $41 million from the program, while local jail aid ranged from as little as $30,000 for Kings County, to $204,000 for Fresno County and $483,000 for Sacramento County. The state’s lawmakers always join with Texans and others to preserve the reimbursements, which totaled $170 million nationwide this year.

“I think it’s the federal government’s responsibility to handle immigration, and it should continue to be their responsibility if the immigrants end up in jail,” Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said Monday, noting that the federal reimbursements have “dwindled” in recent years.

Proposed fee increases also typically encounter congressional resistance. The hundreds of ranchers who graze livestock on more than 7 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property in California and northwestern Nevada, for instance, would have to pay additional new processing fees under the president’s proposal.

The administration likewise revives a proposal to reform an 1872 mining law so that the federal government would get royalties from hardrock mineral production. This would hit California miners, who in 2007 had 22,494 active claims on federal land in the state. Similar reform efforts have failed for years.

“His latest budget simply isn’t a serious proposal,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

The House Appropriations Committee that will now chew over the administration’s proposal includes six Californians, four of them Democrats and two Republicans. The other GOP member from California, Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside, chairs the subcommittee overseeing the Interior Department.

On the Senate Appropriations Committee, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the energy and water panel. In both the House and Senate, California’s clout is diminished by Congress’ self-imposed ban on the earmarks that once steered money to local projects.

California’s large immigrant population, both legal and illegal, gives the state a special stake in other Obama proposals, including the proposed addition of 55 immigration judges and the provision of legal representation for an estimated 30,000 unaccompanied minors

There’s some money set aside for acquiring land for the Sequoia National Forest, and for a slightly smaller grant program aiding restoration of the Pacific Coast’s salmon and steelhead populations. Honoring the National Park Service’s centennial this year, the budget proposes a $150 million “Centennial Challenge” matching grant program designed to lure private donations.

The budget also proposes $6.5 million to continue improving Yosemite’s sewage and water distribution systems. There’s $4 million for acquiring several hundred acres for the Valley’s Grassland Wildlife Management Area and the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge and money to buy an additional 5,460 environmentally vulnerable acres near Coalinga.

“This is a forward-looking budget that invests in Interior’s key missions,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

But highlighting the political maneuvering to come, the National Republican Congressional Committee quickly sent out nearly identical press releases blasting the “Obama-Costa budget” and the “Obama-Bera budget,” in hopes of undermining Reps. Jim Costa of Fresno and Ami Bera of Elk Grove, two Democrats the GOP hopes to unseat.

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached atmdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or (202) 383-0006.

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