The proposed 2007 federal budget -- a difficult balance

U.S. Senator Jon Kyl

U.S. Senator Jon Kyl

Last week, President Bush unveiled to Congress his proposed 2007 federal budget, which outlines spending for federal government agencies and shapes tax initiatives intended to continue our economic growth.

It continues the successful pro-growth policies that have encouraged economic growth and job creation over the past year, and specifically calls on Congress to make permanent the tax relief initiatives from 2001 and 2003 to ensure that the United States sustains a stimulative economic trend. President Bush during the State of the Union best encapsulates our mission, stating that "if we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax increase they do not expect and will not welcome."

It's important to note that critics of the president's budget will claim the tax reductions over the past few years caused economic damage. The opposite is the case. They have helped generate over 4.7 million new jobs since full implementation, kept us on track to cut the national deficit in half by 2009, and produced 2005 revenues of $274 billion more than in 2004. The best way to ensure that we can fund our priorities is to continue to support pro-growth tax policies.

I was also pleased to see the funding requests I made for crucial ports of entry along the Arizona/Mexico border were fulfilled in the president's proposed budget. Among my high-priority requests, $42 million will be directed toward the construction of the new port of entry at San Luis, near Yuma, and the second puts $9.8 million toward reconfiguration and improvements at the Nogales-Mariposa port of entry. The completion of these projects promises relief from miles-long delays that have hampered economic development in our border region.

I also laud the president's proposals to fortify security along the southern border. Among the many border security and immigration initiatives, the president has requested:

• $458.9 million to provide 1,500 new Border Patrol Agents, bringing the total number of agents added to 3,000 since 2005, and representing a 42 percent increase in the Border Patrol Agent workforce since 9/11.

• $41.7 million for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to strengthen worksite enforcement. A more robust worksite enforcement program will send a strong deterrence message to employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, reduce the economic incentive for illegal immigration, and help restore the integrity of employment laws.

• $135 million to expand the current employment-verification pilot program to support a national verification requirement.

• $29.7 million for the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative -- a program originally created with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- to fund prosecutor's offices in the Southwest for processing, detaining, and prosecuting drug cases.

While these requests represent a positive step toward securing our borders, we still have a long way to go, and the Senate must work toward completing and passing comprehensive legislation that will augment the president's security approach. As the budget process moves forward, I will continue to make the case for border security and immigration improvements and will work to secure the appropriations needed this year.

While recognizing the positive steps made in the proposed 2007 federal budget, I'd be remiss if I did not note my concerns that enough funding isn't allocated to prevent and contain wildfires in Arizona and the Southwest. As Arizona is seeing its driest winters in history, the fires that engulfed the Payson area have ravaged more than 3,000 acres of National Forest.

The budget proposal for the Forest Service cuts fire preparedness by $10 million and other fire operations by nearly 36 percent. Preventing and containing wildfires on National Forests is a federal responsibility, and I am not convinced that there is enough funding in this budget to reduce the wildfire risk to our communities and the surrounding landscapes.

The ability of the federal government to fund provisions as outlined will depend on the spirit and willingness of taxpayers to assist with the cost.

The American public is generous as long as it knows that representatives in Congress are taking the most streamlined and fiscally responsible approach. This President's proposal is a good start, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to build upon this foundation.

(Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees and chairs the Republican Policy Committee. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov.)

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