New Yorkers squawk at cut in federal anti-terror funds

New Homeland Security formula sends more money to smaller cities

June 02, 2006|By ELLEN BARRY | ELLEN BARRY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- New Yorkers had a few choice words yesterday for the Department of Homeland Security, after news that the city's anti-terrorism funding is being sharply reduced. "A knife in the back" and "declaring war on New York," politicians here called it. A congressman said the department "doesn't know its rear end from its elbow."

Using a new risk-based allotment, Homeland Security officials increased the number of cities eligible for anti-terrorism grants this year and bolstered funding for such cities as Charlotte, N.C.; Omaha, Neb.; and Louisville, Ky. The grants to New York and Washington - the targets on Sept. 11, 2001 - will be cut by 40 percent, to $124 million and $46.5 million respectively.

New York's Daily News summed up the sentiments with the headline "Feds to City: Drop Dead" and demanded the resignation of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.

The distribution formula, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday, appeared to be politically motivated:

"What they've really done is taken what was supposed to be threat-based and just started to distribute it as normal pork. In many of the places where they got money - but arguably there's no threat - there are close elections, either at the Senate level or at the House level."

In response to the complaints, DHS released a statement that argued New York has received the lion's share of the anti-terrorism funds - 19 percent - since the program was created. That is twice the amount given to the second-place recipient, Los Angeles. The statement also said Homeland Security was forced to reduce its overall 2006 anti-terror funding by $125 million because of smaller congressional appropriations.

And White House press secretary Tony Snow said that New York already has received $650 million in federal funds, much of which was for one-time capital expenditures that do not require further funding.

"The idea that somehow you're being unfair to New York by still giving it more money than any city in the United States of America. ... I think is to create a false issue and maybe even a false area of friction. Because the point of Homeland Security, as I said before, is to provide security for the entire homeland," he said.

But those arguments did not seem to satisfy New Yorkers.

Carole Abramovitz, a lawyer who works in a building next to the World Trade Center site, said that "anyone who is aware of [the reallocation of funds] is absolutely infuriated." She can't forget the sight of people streaming away from the building, or the terrible burnt smell that lingered in the neighborhood for six months. But for non-New Yorkers, Abramovitz said, it might be too easy to forget.

"You can't imagine what really happened here," she said.

An eight-page document detailing the funding reallocation describes Homeland Security's new methodology as "the most accurate estimation to date of the relative risk faced by our nation's communities."

Panels of peer reviewers, including residents of 48 states, analyzed potential targets, it said. In New York, the count included 4,048 "commercial assets," but listed the number of "national icons and monuments" as zero.

Gov. George E. Pataki called that assessment "ridiculous."

The DHS statement released yesterday said New York's famous structures had all been counted in categories other than national icons and monuments - the Brooklyn Bridge was counted as a bridge, the Empire State Building as a "tall office building."

That explanation did not stop Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Peter T. King from urging constituents to send postcards to Chertoff. Their sample postcards, illustrating the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge, carried a message that read: "Dear Secretary Chertoff, Just a note from one of New York's many national monuments and icons. Wish you were here! Hillary and Pete."

Ellen Barry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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