April 29, 2002
State in long line for federal security funds
California's costs estimated to be as high as $5.5 billion
By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – When a bipartisan group of California state
legislators came here recently to, in the words of Assembly
Speaker Herb Wesson, "beg" for federal funds, money for
counterterrorism efforts was the biggest item on the wish list.
Given its size, the Golden State should be near the front of the
line for federal homeland security funds, Wesson argued.
It's a long line.
Since Sept. 11, states, counties and cities have besieged Congress and the Bush administration with requests for money to beef up public health systems and equip law enforcement agencies with state-of-the-art gear for combating terrorism. The demands appear to outstrip the funding the White House has requested for state and local homeland security efforts.
"This is just overwhelmingly pressing for all the states," said Bill
Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Conference of State
Legislatures. "We've been in constant contact with the
administration, particularly (Homeland Security Director Tom)
Ridge's office. We've been trying to relay our needs and our
priorities to them."
The National Governors Association estimates that states will
incur $5 billion to $7 billion in security costs by Sept. 11, 2002,
aggravating the deficits that many of them were facing because
of the downturn in the economy.
California's costs could be as high as $5.5 billion "over the next
several years," said Assembly Budget Committee Chair Jenny
Oropeza, D-Long Beach. The state's shopping list includes $3.5
billion for a standard communications system for California's
numerous public safety agencies, $1.3 billion for health-care
services and $355 million for specialized training and
equipment for police and firefighters.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors put the cities' one-year costs at
$2.6 billion. The National Association of Counties says at least
$1.8 billion is needed to better equip public health systems to
cope with attacks and has also called for a $3.5 billion "local
anti-terrorism block grant."
In the budget he proposed for next year, President Bush asked
Congress to appropriate $3.5 billion to the states for training
and equipping firefighters, paramedics and others who would be
the first to respond to a terrorist strike.
He also proposed $1.6 billion for state and local health-care
systems and $374 million for programs to mobilize local
volunteers in case of an attack.
In a supplemental spending request for the current budget year,
Bush asked Congress for $327 million for equipment and
training grants for state and local terrorism response.
Administration officials have indicated that a longer-term plan
will emerge from a homeland security assessment that Ridge is
"The key to homeland security is driving protection down to the
local level, the resources down to the local level, the
information down to the local level," Ridge said recently. "At the
end of the day, the homeland is secure if the hometown is
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, complained that Ridge's
assessment is long overdue and said that is hampering Congress' ability to determine how to direct funding. Harman is the top Democrat on the House terrorism and homeland security
"Absent organization, this (funding) process will be very
random. What is still missing is a threat assessment, a national
strategy and the ability to compel all the levels of government to follow the strategy. The big fear is that the second (attack) wave hits before we get organized," she said.
Some congressional leaders have indicated lawmakers will go
beyond what Bush proposed spending at the state and local
levels next year.
"The need for multi-year, sustainable programs to help the states plan for these new responsibilities . . . seems critical," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
He has been pressing Ridge to testify before the committee on
the administration's overall $37.7 billion homeland security
On the House Appropriations Committee, there is a "broad
consensus" that more should be invested in local initiatives, a
committee aide said.
The funding quest has spawned some low-level squabbling
among the states, counties and cities. The mayors, for instance,
are unhappy that Bush proposed giving the money for first
responders to the states rather than directly to the cities.
Ridge said the administration was "trying to avoid applications
from 18,000 different cities and municipalities and 3,000
counties and parishes."
He also expressed concern about the money being used to pad
"The state and local officials have asked for the flexibility of
hiring people with these dollars. And, frankly, we have resisted
that," Ridge said.
Indeed, the scramble for homeland security dollars has drawn
the skepticism of some government watchdog groups. While not
disputing that more resources should be devoted to security,
they wonder who is going to monitor the spending.
"Probably years down the road we'll find that substantial
taxpayer dollars were wasted," said Sean Rushton, a spokesman
for Citizens Against Government Waste. "Congress doesn't have a great interest in setting up a system that is transparent enough for groups like ours and others to look carefully at what they're doing."