Officials balk at proposed security cuts

Officials balk at proposed security cuts

Legislators weighed in this week on how President Bush’s plan to cut funds from the Department of Homeland Security in his ‘009 budget would affect the Garden State. It was reported last weekend that Bush intends to halve the department’s funding, which would mean less money allocated to individual states.

Homeland Security has provided $’3 billion to states and local communities since Sept. 11, ‘001, and had planned to provide $3.’ billion in ‘009. The White House now intends to ask Congress for only $1.4 billion for Homeland Security and eliminate programs for port security, transit security, and local emergency management operations. If approved, the budget cuts would go into effect Sept. 30 next year. Although this is Bush’s last budget, the cuts would remain in effect through Sept. 30, ‘009, more than halfway into the first year of the next president’s term.

Specifics of the cuts have not yet been finalized, and Congress will not address them until it begins work on the ‘009 budget next year. Bush opponents are balancing a wait-and-see attitude with more vocal attacks on the president for considering any cuts to security.

Democratic New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg promised to do all he could to fight the budget cuts.

"This critical funding helps New Jersey’s police, firefighters, and rescue workers protect our families and our communities," he said. "This would just be another example of President Bush’s misplaced priorities — spending $3 billion each week in Iraq while proposing massive cuts in homeland security funds."

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist. 9) also reacted harshly to the proposed cuts but reserved full judgment until he sees what Bush will do with the remaining funds.

"Will he keep the present level or increase the level of funding for regions of the country that are likely terrorist targets, and zero out monies for parts of the country that have no reasonable chance of ever experiencing a terrorist event?" Rothman asked. "Or will he do an across-the-board cut for every region, regardless of its probable nature as a terrorist target?"

But even if the remaining money is funneled to areas more likely to be targeted, Rothman said, that the president would even suggest cutting homeland security funds is "ridiculous."

New Jersey received more than $61 million in homeland security grants in ‘007. If that number is halved, according to Rothman, residents would have to make up the difference through property taxes, or first-responder units would have to make do with less money than they need.

For now, the cuts are purely "speculative," said Roger Shatzkin, spokesman for the N.J. Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness in Trenton. However, the areas that would be affected by the president’s cuts are considered high-risk, he said.

"Port security and transit security are some of our highest priorities in the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas," he said. "This is clearly an area that we think needs to be maintained if not beefed up."

National funding has been decreasing overall, he said.

In ‘004, the State Homeland Security Grant Program received a $’,’00,000,000 allocation in the national budget. That number has decreased every year, and the program’s ‘007 allocation was $900,000,000. The president proposed a $450,000,000 allocation for the program in ‘008, while the Senate and House proposed $950,000,000 and $900,000,000 allocations, respectively.

In October, Homeland Security allocated $1.8 million in grants to ‘3 New Jersey nonprofit organizations through the ‘007 Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Seven of those grants went to Jewish organizations in this paper’s coverage area.

Those funds would not be affected by future budget cuts, since they were one-time allocations, and Shatzkin did not expect those grants to be renewed in ‘008.

In this year’s allocation, New Jersey was linked with New York City as a single region, which earned it more funding than other metropolitan areas.

"New Jersey has done better in a shrinking pie in the last couple of years," he said.

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