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Published: Sunday, 3/30/2003

What price security?

Despite reassuring words from Washington, cities and states are not getting the financial support they need to meet homeland security needs.

The latest example comes in President Bush's emergency supplemental budget request for the current fiscal year of $74.7 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but most of it will go for the war in Iraq ($63 billion), or to other countries ($8 billion); only about $4 billion is destined for homeland security. Of that, $500 million will go to the FBI and $1.5 billion for federal protection. That leaves just $2 billion for all the cities, towns, and counties in all 50 states.

While the administration and its supporters in Congress insist that the federal government should not pay for “extraneous” expenses, state and local governments are faced with unprecedented costs.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol, for example, was forced to pay $34,000 a day in overtime for extra security patrols for each of the 20 days the orange alert was in effect in February. That's $680,000 in all.

To ease the strain on patrol manpower, the General Assembly considered allocating $10 million for hiring of up to 50 additional troopers. That's fine, but the effort was dropped because the state, facing a $4 billion budget deficit over the next two years, doesn't have $10 million to spare.

We're not alone. New York City, which bore the brunt of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has been consistently shortchanged on aid. And Gov. George Pataki points out that his state got less per person in a previous federal allocation than sparsely populated Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Alaska, and Wyoming.

Los Angeles spent $1.7 million for one week of orange alert security, and the city was forced to dip into its public works trust fund for $4.4 million to buy radiation detectors and protective suits for emergency personnel.

At the same time, the President's emergency demand includes $1 billion for Turkey, the country that refused to permit U.S. troops to invade northern Iraq from its soil, and $1 billion in special military aid for Israel, which already is getting $2.7 billion in U.S. aid this year.

The bill even includes $35.8 million to build a new U.S. embassy - in Baghdad.

It's important to plan ahead, of course, but the administration must provide greater financial support for legitimate security needs here at home.

Mr. Bush promised $3.5 billion to local governments in 2001, but ended up fighting with Congress and threatening to veto money he himself had supported. As a result, it took more than a year for that initial allocation to trickle down.

After 9/11, cities and other local government units across the nation have stepped up anti-terrorist vigilance at airports, power plants, and other public facilities, often shifting safety forces away from their regular duties.

Homeland security needs may be difficult to quantify in dollars, but they are real. Every police officer assigned to watch for terrorists is not out in the neighborhoods fighting crime or helping citizens.

This is the message that must get through to Washington, if anyone there cares to listen.



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