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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2004

Shortchanging Michigan

WHEN the Department of Homeland Security was established in January 2003, the hope was that the new government bureaucracy would supply the ways and means to better protect the country after 9/11. But in Michigan, at least, that hope was misplaced.

A state with some of the most heavily used international border crossings in the nation, not to mention bridges, tunnels, and nuclear facilities, got less money than states like Rhode Island and North Dakota in per capita spending of federal antiterrorism dollars.

According to the Census Bureau, only four other states - Indiana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - received less per resident than Michigan did in fiscal 2002-03. Common sense would seem to dictate that funding for homeland security in the country goes first to high priority areas in the United States, i.e. those most vulnerable to security breaches.

One doesn't necessarily think of Rhode Island and North Dakota as being obvious terrorist targets. Michigan, on the other hand, home to high traffic ports of entry, plus a population of just over 10 million, including one of the country's largest Arab-American enclaves in Dearborn, is different.

Yet during the initial budget year of Homeland Security, Michigan was seriously shortchanged by a department formula that favors smaller states competing for funds in everything from Coast Guard salaries to devices for detecting the presences of lethal germs.

Rhode Island and others did especially well, per capita, because initially the government divided significant portions of funding into equal amounts for distribution to all states.

Which explains why Rhode Island could pull in $26.26 per resident, North Dakota, $40.48, and Mississippi, $57.33, while Michigan ranked 46th in per capital funding at just $15.50 per resident. In total homeland security funding Michigan received $157,263,000, ranking it 21st nationally. A study last year put the price tag for Michigan's security equipment needs at $1.4 billion.

Many in Congress were rightly steamed about the absurd disparity in homeland funding distribution. They argued that funding ought to focus on cities and states where the threat is greatest. Quite the concept, no?

The Senate recently approved a different way of doing business in the next fiscal year "that will remedy some of the formula inequities by compensating for the extra security measures that larger states are required to provide, and by making a portion of the new formula risk-based," said a spokeswoman for Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.

But the fact that it took an act of Congress to insert common sense into how the federal government spends money to safeguard its shores is troubling. It does not instill confidence in the newest Washington bureaucracy to aggressively identify security weaknesses in the country and effectively move to rectify them.

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