Recently, the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan research and consulting organization, reported that collectively, the states have a "$17.5 billion budget gap to fill before fiscal year 2003 ends, which for most states is June 30."
Thereafter, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left of center nonprofit research organization, released a report stating that the "budget deficits now looming over state governments will likely reach $60 billion to $85 billion in state fiscal year 2004 and constitute the largest state budget gaps in half a century." The Center stated that these deficits represent 13-18 percent of state expenditures and "are on top of both $50 billion in deficits that states closed when enacting their fiscal year 2003 budgets and additional deficits of at least $17.5 billion in 2003 that have opened up in the months since the 2003 budgets were enacted."
California is the deficit leader. The New York Times reported California's "shortfall is bigger than the annual budgets of every other state except New York. California's own general budget for the current fiscal year is $78 billion."
However, these reports leave something out and California may be the state that best highlights this omission. What is the big secret that California politicians, both liberal and conservative, are afraid to tell the public? Is it that California Democrat Governor Gray Davis and an overwhelming Democrat majority in the state legislature squandered a budget surplus of at least six billion dollars and put the state $35 billion in the red? No, we' ve been told that. Is it that cuts in spending have already been proposed. No, we've been told that. Is it that the Democrats will try to raise the state's income, sales, gasoline and perhaps property taxes, as well as fees for automobile registration, college tuition and whatever else they can think of. No, we've been told that. Is it that these extra taxes and fees could total hundreds or thousands of dollars per year for most Californians? No, we've been told that. The big secret is the net impact on the state treasury from illegal immigration.California does not regularly report such information to the public.
However, occasionally a piece of the picture is revealed, as in 1994 when the voters had to decide on Proposition 187. Among other things, that Proposition would have denied illegal aliens elementary and secondary education in government schools. Because the state Legislative Analyst is required to tell the voters the fiscal impact of every Proposition on the ballot, the states' taxpayers learned that they were paying $1.2 billion annually to give illegal aliens elementary and secondary education in government schools. Then Governor Pete Wilson's office did a study that put the figure at $1.5 billion. A United States Government Accounting Office analysis around that same time basically supported Governor Wilson's higher figure. Nine years and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of additional illegal aliens later, we only can guess at the present cost.
Calls to the offices of several state legislators revealed an ignorance about the present net fiscal impact of illegal immigration on the state. Leading researchers of illegal immigration told me the studies have not been done. One of them called this "willful blindness." Two Republican gubernatorial candidates, present Secretary of State Bill Jones and the man who beat him in the primary, Bill Simon, could not tell me during the campaign how much money was being to educate illegal aliens in the massive Los Angles Unified School District, nor how many illegal aliens were enrolled in that school district.
In addition to the cost of providing illegal aliens with elementary and secondary education, what are the costs to California taxpayers from the following?
--Providing medical care at government hospitals and trauma centers, especially non-emergency medical care, to illegal aliens. (Los Angeles County voters just approved an increase in their property taxes to pay for County trauma centers. Government officials failed to tell the voters what scattered news stories have revealed for years: just like private hospitals, public hospitals and trauma centers are overrun by illegal aliens who use these facilities for primary, non-emergency health care. For example, on September 24, 2002, the Washington Times reported on the fate of several private hospitals that us an idea of what is happening at public hospitals: The Regional Medical Center Hospital and Pioneers Memorial Hospital, both in El Centro, Calif., lost more than $1.5 million last year in their treatment of illegal immigrants. Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego was forced to close after losing more than $5 million a year in unreimbursed medical care, much of it for illegal immigrants.)
--Building additional hospitals and other medical facilities to treat illegal aliens.
--Allowing illegal aliens to attend other government schools like colleges and universities, especially when they receive in-state tuition rates.
--Building additional schools and colleges to educate illegal aliens.
--Expending law enforcement and court resources on traffic accidents caused by illegal immigrants.
--Building extra infrastructure like roads, bridges, airports and mass transit systems, etc., to accommodate illegal aliens.
--Incarcerating illegal aliens in jails and prisons.
--Building additional jails and prisons to incarcerate illegal aliens.
--Expending law enforcement and court resources on illegal aliens who violate non-immigration-related criminal laws.
--Building additional courts and law enforcement facilities to handle the illegal aliens who violate non-immigration-related criminal laws.
--Welfare, food, housing subsidies or other similar benefits provided to illegal aliens who obtain it by fraud or otherwise.
--Providing education, food, law enforcement and court services, etc., to the minor children of illegal aliens who automatically become American citizens upon their birth in America.
In addition to these costs, what does the state collect from illegal aliens through taxes and fees? What does the federal government taxpayer pay to California to reimburse it for any costs resulting from illegal aliens?
These and similar questions remain unanswered.
The irresponsibility of leaving these questions unanswered is breathtaking. Once the decision is made to part the taxpayer from his money, the next decision is about distribution of that money. Even if one believes that illegal aliens are entitled to some of that money, their moral claim to that money is less than that of everybody else. Therefore, in the face of an unprecedented reduction in the standard of living for the state's population through cuts in services and tax and fee increases, the first order of business should be to tell the people what the state is spending on people who are here in violation of the law compared to what the state receives from these illegals. Only then can the people, through their government representatives, make an informed decision about what services to cut and what taxes and fees to raise, if any.
With California leading the deficit disaster, California also can lead the way to a vital part of the solution. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in addition to California, 23 other states have the initiative process, which "enables citizens to bypass their state legislature by placing proposed statutes and, in some states, constitutional amendments on the ballot".
Because our elected state representatives will not force the states to tell the public the net fiscal impact of illegal immigration, in those initiative-friendly states, the people should put propositions on their ballots that would require their states to provide the information annually. To ensure that the information is collected, analyzed and presented accurately and completely, perhaps a state agency with a reputation for honest public policy analysis like California's Legislative Analyst Office should prepare the report.
Our government representatives are about to cut services to people who are here legally and take more money from them, without telling us the net economic impact on the state treasuries of illegal aliens who are receiving our tax money. They are about to force us to lower our standard of living while we support illegal aliens. This is wrong. The only way to stop them is to force them to give us the information about our money by passing such a proposition in each state.
As for the federal government, which is being asked to help eliminate these deficits, members of the House and Senate could request the federal GAO to do an annual comprehensive study for both the federal and state treasuries. Because there is no federal initiative process, we must lobby House and Senate members to request such reports from the GAO.