St. Petersburg Times
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IraqA Times Editorial

Security snubbed

With Washington seemingly more concerned with tax cuts than homeland security, state and local governments have been left without adequate resources to thwart terror attacks.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

The attack on Iraq has been an impressive display of American military preparedness. But security is lacking on the home front. The Bush administration recognizes the potential for new terrorist attacks -- the nation's terror alert was upgraded Monday -- but it has not met its full responsibilities for domestic security. The president has spent more time and political capital on pushing his scandalous tax cuts through Congress than he has on ensuring that state and local governents have the resources to thwart new terror attacks.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the White House last week without any public commitment that Washington would provide $900-million in needed security aid for the city. This is shabby treatment of a city whose suffering is etched in the American psyche and which remains a prime terrorist target. Yet the snub aptly reflects what drives federal thinking -- that states and localities will provide security, anyway, and any federal assistance that comes is sugar on the top.

One doesn't need to live in New York to have a feel for the new level of security that has enveloped America's cities. Visitors to Tampa for the college basketball playoffs can see the added police presence downtown. It is there when cruise ships leave the Tampa port, when accused terrorist conspirator Sami Al-Arian goes to court and when demonstrators protest outside Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, headquarters for U.S. Central Command, the military command overseeing the Iraq war.

The point is that protecting the home front against terrorism encompasses a broad range of responsibilities, most of which the states and localities have assumed on a daily basis. Though the federal government has assumed the lead in securing commercial airports, it has not met a similar challenge to protect the seaports, railways and public infrastructure that are the backbone to interstate commerce and travel.

Some states have moved National Guard troops to protect nuclear power plants and other utilities. States and localities have assumed responsibility for seaports, public events and roadways. Much of this local effort is appropriate, as local police, firefighters and emergency medical workers would respond first to any attack. But local departments need money for equipment and training, to upgrade communications systems and to install what Washington envisions as nationwide early-warning detection network.

President Bush didn't help this collective effort the past couple weeks when he tried to blame Congress for not providing enough money. The most reasonable estimates for the added security costs reach $7-billion or more, double what the White House and Congress have been willing to provide. There is plenty of blame to go around for the paucity of aid trickling down to the states. Early signs even indicate the supplemental budget request is inadequate. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge needs to put forward an adequate supplemental spending request and a method for fast-tracking money to the states. Time is as much the issue as money.

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