WASHINGTON - Mayor Martin O'Malley told a congressional panel yesterday that the federal government needs to quickly funnel more money to local governments to help protect cities from terrorism.
O'Malley's testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee was meant to jump-start legislation to create a $3.5 billion Homeland Security block grant program in which money would go to local governments.
`War on two fronts'
"Today, we are fighting a different kind of war on two fronts," the mayor said. "One front is a foreign front. ... The second front is right here at home, and it's in the streets of American cities and in our population centers."
O'Malley, co-chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' federal-local law enforcement task force, said Baltimore has spent about $6.5 million on police overtime and other anti-terrorism costs since Sept. 11. The city expects to spend an additional $4.4 million before the fiscal year ends June 30, he said.
The costs have hampered the city's ability to fund other city programs, O'Malley said.
He was joined by other elected officials from around the nation who said they also want the money given directly to local governments, instead of the current system in which states are given the federal dollars to distribute to local governments.
"The past model is fine for responding to hurricanes or tornadoes," O'Malley said. "It is not fine for when we are under attack." He noted that it takes up to 20 months for states to receive federal funds after Congress appropriates them.
Hillary Clinton bill
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, has introduced legislation to create the $3.5 billion block grant program for local governments to use in offsetting the costs of anti-terrorism efforts and securing vulnerable locations.
President Bush also has proposed spending $3.5 billion on homeland defense next year, but he wants the money funneled through state governments.
Since Sept. 11, O'Malley has been a frequent visitor to Washington to discuss what Baltimore has done to prepare for possible terrorist attacks. But yesterday, some Republican senators - who argued the money should first go to states - appeared annoyed with O'Malley's responses to some questions.
"For all the talent you display and what I read about you, I don't think you know everything about the relationship between cities and states or managing cities and states," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.
"I don't claim to know a whole lot about anything," O'Malley responded. "That is why I am an elected official."