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States and Cities Grumbling for Security Funds

Homeland security teams are already suffering from bureaucratic breakdowns, leading some cities and states to complain that they are not getting the resources they need fast enough to cover the costs of increased homeland security.

Congress passed $3.5 billion in first-response homeland security monies for the states in June, as well as an additional $1.1 billion in anti-bioterrorism funding, but neither will be available until October.

Despite the billions that have been trickling down from Washington since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local officials say they can't wait for the new fiscal year to see some relief.  Compounded with budget crunches, the security burden on local communities is causing some grumbling on the ground.

“The budget crises has been exacerbated by the homeland security effort obviously,” said Ann Beauchesne, a spokeswoman for the National Governor’s Association. “What we’re seeing is states tapping into their rainy day funds, tightening their belts, and what we're seeing is that some states are letting their departments run a deficit as long as (they are) dealing with homeland security."

For example, Wisconsin, which could face steep cuts in its federal highway money next year, is already shifting money normally used for highway safety to homeland security.

“The department has always had to prioritize its services,” said Outagamie County Sheriff Brad Gehring. “Cuts in federal funding, coupled with losses in state shared revenue, means serious discussions will have to take place.”

In Tennessee, where the state was forced to shut down partially due to a budget impasse there this week, all agencies were expected to put aside $100 million in each of their budgets for future “priority one” terrorism expenses after Sept. 11, officials there said. Meanwhile, they wait for the federal money expected down the pike.

“We have a serious budget problem right now, but certainly the governor has placed a high priority on (homeland security),” said Gen. Wendell Gilbert, who serves as Gov. Don Sundquist’s deputy of homeland security and chairman of the homeland security council.

“But it’s a moving train,” he said.

But some states are taking a more controversial route to covering homeland security expenses.

New Jersey, which passed a state budget Monday that actually cut the amount of homeland security by half, expects to make up for the loss by imposing a $2 per-day per-vehicle charge on car rental agencies.

Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayer's Union, said that some states, instead of shifting money from budgets with lesser priority to imminent homeland security needs, are hiking taxes.

"Things are tough all over," he said. 

According to the National Governor’s Association, income tax collections in the states that collect them were down by $14.5 billion in the first quarter of 2002. Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said cities, which rely on municipal taxes as well as state appropriations to pay their expenses, will spend upward of an additional $2.6 billion on measures such as equipment, overtime for law enforcement, and training.

In a survey done last month, 87 percent of mayors in the conference said their emergency preparedness would be “hampered” if federal funds were given to the states first for distribution. Mayors urged federal lawmakers to avoid the state “middle man” , whom they say is clogging up the system, and send the cash directly to the towns which are most threatened and doing the most to make the homeland secure.

“Resources are needed sooner or later, as cities, on the front lines of homeland security, continue to ramp up their prevention and emergency response efforts,” Boston Mayor Tom Menino, the president of the mayor’s association, said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report