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Cities need the protection



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: President Bush emphasized the need for homeland security Monday during a visit to the port of Philadelphia. Saddam Hussein, he warned, "may try to bring terror to our shores." But as cities like Los Angeles raid municipal budgets to pay for chemical protection suits, the president has been skimping on their needs.

Senate Democrats hope to add to the supplemental war spending bill $4.8 billion for "first responders," ports and protection of nuclear materials. That's a move in the right direction. But unless new funds are distributed more fairly than previous allocations, they won't come close to solving the problems of states at high risk for terrorism such as California and New York.

In late March, Bush set out a spending request for the war in Iraq and homeland security that included just $2 billion for states and cities. A scant $50 million extra would be set aside for major metropolitan areas. The states so far have received just $600 million, a far cry from the $6 billion that Bush originally promised state and local governments.

A terrorist attack can occur anywhere, but the United States cannot defend against each and every threat. It has to prioritize. The locales that logically are most at risk are in Washington, D.C., New York and California. Thousands of uninspected containers enter the Port of Los Angeles every day, and experts fear they could be used to smuggle in chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Heightened citywide security is costing Los Angeles $1 million a week. New York state officials say they would run through Bush's proposed funding in a month.

Disparities

Yet smaller states are getting more money per capita than big ones. According to a New York City study of the previous $600-million federal homeland security allocation, the least funding per capita went to California ($1.33) and New York state ($1.38). Wyoming got $9.78 per capita. The distribution formula was developed in part by a committee then chaired by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., whose own thinly populated state got $8.15 per capita.

There is no perfect way to allocate homeland security funds. But starving New York and California while Wyoming -- Vice President Dick Cheney's mostly rural home state -- feasts is obviously far off kilter




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