WASHINGTON – Previewing one element from next week's State of the Union address, President Bush told mayors from around the nation that he will propose doubling the money devoted to homeland security to $38 billion — and spending $3.5 billion of that on state and local emergency first responders.
"That is a 1,000 percent increase over what our government has spent," Bush said Thursday of the increase in state and local funds.
Assigning the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lead efforts to coordinate federal homeland security with local governments, Bush said emergency first responders are the most vital force responding to terror and other attacks.
"The first minutes or hours after attack are the most hopeful minutes for saving lives. First minutes. Immediately. Therefore, we've got to understand and remember the important role of first responders. It became vivid on Sept. 11. One of the most poignant stories I remember is some going into the danger wrote their Social Security numbers on their arms. It reminds all of us about how dangerous the job is. And about how some are willing to sacrifice for others," Bush told members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors assembled in the White House East Room.
Among the improvements to homeland security, Bush wants to tighten security at transportation facilities, starting with the hiring of 30,000 guards to take over passenger and baggage screening at airports. He wants to tighten borders, develop an antibioterrorism program and improve security at power and water treatment plants.
"It's the beginning of a homeland defense initiative which is going to last throughout my administration," Bush said.
To aid local communities, Bush will give $2 billion for state and local agencies to buy protective clothing, chemical and biological detection systems and communications gear. About $1.1 billion will go to training firefighters, police officers and other emergency medical personnel for chemical and bio-attacks. The rest will go to developing emergency response plans and improving emergency response systems
Bush plans to submit the request for additional homeland security funding when he proposes his 2003 budget request on Feb. 4. The $18 billion increase from this year's budget will accompany $30 billion in other defense spending, which could bring the total to $379 billion in 2003.
All the extra spending comes as both the White House and the Congressional Budget Office admit that the budget surplus projected last year for 2002 is gone. The government is likely to run a $106 billion deficit this year, according to Bush's budget office, and won't be able to balance its books before 2004 or 2005.
But Bush said Tuesday that whatever it takes, whatever it costs, he won't cut corners when it comes to the nation's defense.
Appearing with Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, FEMA chief Joe Allbaugh and Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, Bush said Allbaugh will lead the coordination efforts.
Bush said Allbaugh, his close friend and chief of staff during his governorship in Texas, is the right man for the job because he understands the needs of local leaders and will respond to both Democratic and Republican state and local officials with equal vigor.
"If you have any problem with him, call me," Bush joked.
Bush also addressed other issues of concern to mayors. He said he wants to work with mayors on implementing the industrial waste site clean-up legislation recently passed by Congress. He also said he wants to help reduce drug dependency in neighborhoods, increase home ownership for low-income Americans and aid faith-based community assistance programs.
"I believe strongly that we must unleash the armies of compassion of every city in America to provide hope for people where hope doesn't exist," he said. "I bring up matters of spirit because the enemy doesn't realize who they hit. They didn't understand our fiber, our character, our values. And that's one of the interesting developments in our country... there are a lot of Americans who are asking what they can do to help."
Fox News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.