San Diego Union Tribune

May 13, 2005

California may get more security funds
House approves change in the federal formula for homeland money

By Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON – California and other states that face a high risk of terrorism would likely get a bigger share of federal homeland security funds under legislation passed yesterday by the House.

The bill would scrap a funding formula that has made California last in the nation in per-person funding for terrorism prevention and response, behind sparsely populated, low-risk states such as Wyoming.

"We want to make sure that, instead of political formulas, we have an analysis of where terrorism threats intersect with vulnerabilities," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, the bill's sponsor.

"The question is not whether we're putting enough money into homeland security. The question is whether it's being spent in a way that makes us better prepared. The answer, unfortunately, is not always," Cox said.

Officials from California, New York and other major states have complained that the formula the federal government uses for distributing homeland security grants shortchanges them.

Each state is guaranteed 0.75 percent of the total funding, with the rest distributed according to a state's population.

California, with potential terrorism targets ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge and Los Angeles International Airport to San Diego's sprawling naval complex, got $9.03 per person in emergency response grants last fiscal year, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

By contrast, Wyoming, which is thought to have few terrorism targets, received $37.60 per person.

Under Cox's bill, more of the grant money would be distributed based on a terrorism risk analysis by the Department of Homeland Security.

The guaranteed minimum for each state would be reduced to 0.25 percent, though higher-risk areas, including border and coastal states, would be guaranteed at least 0.45 percent.

"We need a single, unified strategy for homeland security," said Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "Obviously, that strategy has to take account of threat."

It is uncertain how much more California would get under the formula specified in the House bill. In fiscal year 2004, the state received $317 million in homeland security grants.

"I have no idea about total dollar amounts per state," Cox told reporters. "Congress is eschewing that role. We don't want to direct where the money goes."

Efforts to change the formula in the past have foundered in the Senate, where thinly populated states have more political clout than they do in the House.

A sweeping intelligence and homeland security overhaul passed by Congress last year failed to include a formula change, even though it was a top recommendation of the nonpartisan commission that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee recently passed legislation that also seeks to distribute more of the money based on threat. But it would guarantee each state a higher amount of money than the House bill.

If the Senate bill passes, the difference will have to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee.

"I think we'll get there in conference with the Senate," Cox said, adding that he has already met with his Senate counterpart, Susan Collins, R-Maine, to discuss the issue.

»Next Story»