WASHINGTON – State and local officials believe they are more than up to the task of taking care of security in the post-Sept. 11 world. The problem, they say, is paying for it.
Already watching tax revenues dwindle with the withering economy, many are barely able to meet their peacetime obligations — much less provide extra security for nuclear power plants and airports or prepare for a bio-terror attack.
"I think funding is going to be an issue on any level," said Maj. Tommy Brown of the Georgia Department of Public Safety and spokesperson for the newly commissioned homeland security office there.
Like other states, Georgia has begun to coordinate efforts among various agencies responsible for preventing and responding to emergencies, among them police, health and environmental protection departments along with the National Guard.
Currently, state officials are getting all the advice they need from the feds. What they aren't getting, they complain, is money to pay for what the feds think they should do, said John Thomasian, a director at the National Governors Association.
"All of the basic homeland security stuff, the protection, is being paid for by the states," Thomasian said. He estimates homeland defense efforts by the states this year will cost between $5 billion and $10 billion and be borne by the states themselves.
Connecticut, for example, has had to up the number of state troopers on duty at nuclear power plants and airports there, said Dean Pagani, press secretary for Connecticut Gov. John Rowland. And yet few people are satisfied, he said.
"Once you put a certain number of National Guard at one airport, everyone will want the same at another," Pagani said.
The National Governors Association wants Congress to provide $2 billion for the states to help them prepare for and respond to biological and chemical attacks. It also wants Congress to establish a discretionary fund for states that need to provide security for critical infrastructures like bridges, damns and power plants.
Rep. James Maloney, D-Conn., has introduced legislation to increase the number of federally funded Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams in the states from 32 to 55.
Each one is made up of 22 highly trained National Guard members with the benefit of federal resources who provide the first response in the event of such an attack.
"The purpose of my legislation is to give states the necessary and best resources to protect themselves and respond to a terrorist attack of this type," said Maloney, who points to the team in New York, which provided an entire range of services after the attacks.
Stephen Jewett, the newly appointed homeland security coordinator for the state of Arizona, said his agencies are enjoying the open lines of communication and have already established an information-sharing database with the FBI there.
But Arizona has already been successful in lobbying for some funding, too, he said. Since Sept. 11, Arizona and Nevada have asked for, and received, funding for the extra security needed to protect the Hoover Dam, for which both states share responsibility.
"I think there is going to be some funding coming from the federal government, the amount of money right now is unknown," he said. In the meantime, he said, "we feel well briefed and in the loop."
But most agree that in these early stages it is unclear how much it will tax the states in this time if economic uncertainty.
"It's definitely going to be about the money," said Susan Frederick at the Conference of State Legislatures. "There is in infinite amount of expenses involved and state budgets aren't looking too good right now. Given the fallout from Sept. 11 economically speaking, we will need some help, especially if there are federal laws passed that mandate that we do certain things."