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Cutting off illegals could cost
Think tank says barring services wouldn't save funds

Rocky Mountain News | December 30, 2005
By Ann Imse

The Bell Policy Center said Thursday that a proposed ballot initiative barring illegal immigrants from receiving nonemergency state services would cost Colorado more than it would save.

The Denver-based think tank based its evaluation on a report last year by the Legislative Council, a group composed of 18 legislators, on a failed bill with similar provisions.

The report said the bill would have cost roughly nine times more than it would have saved in the first year.

But the sponsor of the bill said the Legislative Council's estimate "was way, way off."

Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said following a Bell Policy Center news conference Thursday that its report grossly underestimated the savings at $460,000 a year.

He predicted the savings would be "tens of millions of dollars."

The Legislative Council report cited savings in only one of 17 state departments. It listed costs in five.

In making its cost argument Thursday, Bell officials condemned an initiative that is expected to be on the November 2006 ballot. The proposed amendment to the state constitution is being promoted by a group called Defend Colorado Now, which did not return calls Thursday. Petition signatures are not yet being collected.

Bell officials said the initiative's cost-cutting effect would be less than expected because it would not touch the two most expensive services provided to illegal immigrants: K-12 education and emergency medical care. Both are required by federal law for all persons in the U.S.

The legislative report cited by Bell put the cost of enforcing a ban on state services to illegal immigrants at $4.3 million the first year and $2.6 million the second year. The cost largely would be to check and record identifications before services are provided.

Neither last year's bill nor this year's initiative specify services that would be barred. But the legislative report suggests the list might include welfare, nonemergency medical care, higher education, rehabilitation services, vehicle registration, public safety services, court and probation services, and various licenses.

Illegal immigrants rarely apply for services that require identifying themselves, said Bell's president, Wade Buchanan. "This population is not accessing the benefits you think," he said.

"We know what it's going to cost. What we can't find are the savings to taxpayers to justify those costs," he said.

But Buchanan conceded that counting illegal immigrants and calculating the benefits they use is tough.

Schultheis agreed.

"The reason why you can't get good numbers is because nobody will keep track of how many are here," he said.

Buchanan said Bell did ask to review the Legislative Council's detailed file used to calculate the cost and savings estimates for last year's bill. But the council loaned out the file within the Capitol and has been unable to retrieve it.

Schultheis said he does not intend to reintroduce his bill because he expects the initiative to make November's ballot. That means the Legislative Council will not be reconsidering its estimate of the costs and savings of his bill this year. Such estimates are not made for initiatives, Schultheis said.

Buchanan said Bell will continue to pursue the financial questions.

"We intend to be a truth squad" in the upcoming debate, he said.

"Immigration is a serious challenge," he added. "We do not have a policy that matches workers with jobs. We do not have a policy that makes the borders safe."

He said any solution must include efforts to improve opportunities for migrants in their home countries to reduce their need to come to the United States.

Denying benefits to illegal immigrants

The state Legislative Council last year estimated the cost and savings of denying benefits to illegal immigrants as part of its evaluation of a proposed measure.

• Cost: $4.3 million
• Savings: $460,000
• Net cost: $3.8 million


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