Ridge outlines domestic security plan, promises mayors more money

Financial aid will soon be on the way to cities that need it for homeland defense missions, Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Wednesday morning. While Ridge did not specify how much money cities will get in the fiscal 2003 budget, he told the nation's mayors that it would not be a one-time deal. Future budgets will include similar allotments, he said. "On Sept. 11, America's mayors became a symbol of strength worldwide," Ridge told a room filled with mayors from hundreds of cities across the country. He was one of several government leaders invited to speak at the group's annual winter conference. President Bush will outline parts of his domestic security agenda Thursday in remarks to the group. "The President has asked me to develop a national strategy for homeland security, but I need you to help me do so. That theme of partnership is an important one as the President gets ready to announce the homeland security initiatives in this year's budget," Ridge said. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, municipalities have been asking for federal money to offset the costs of protecting their communities from future terrorist attacks. According to a new survey by the Conference of Mayors, cities will spend more than $2.6 billion on security by the end of 2002. "Tightening security in the aftermath of Sept. 11 threatens to break the bank for many city budgets," said New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, president of the group. "Mayors are on the frontlines in securing our cities and our homeland. We desperately need a partnership with the federal government to help address these growing security costs." In November Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., introduced the "Homeland Security Block Grant Act" (S. 1737), a bill that would authorize $3 billion in fiscal 2002 for targeted grants for training, communications and rescue equipment, and security measures at airports, waterways, utility plants, transit stations and other major components of urban infrastructure. The bill is awaiting action in the Judiciary Committee. Ridge promised to get federal money into local coffers as soon as possible, and said it would go toward bio-terrorism preparedness training; equipment to deal with hazardous materials and improve emergency communications; and the improvement of public health systems. "We are mindful of the need to get these dollars to you … so you can put them to use as soon as possible," he said. Ridge previewed the administration's homeland defense plan, saying it will not only help communities prevent terrorist attacks, but also foster better intergovernmental working relationships and improve communities. With the proposal, the White House will seek to couple homeland security with quality-of-life issues, he said. "In the process of making our cities more secure and safe, we will make them better, " he said. For example, Bush will propose so-called 'smart borders' to bolster security at gateways to the United States. But those borders also are intended to ease the flow of commerce to and from Mexico and Canada. "By building better borders, we enhance opportunities for growth," Ridge said. The administration's plan relies on "a new partnership" with states, counties and cities, officials said. "This isn't about what Washington wants anymore," said Ridge. Much of that new partnership would be based on improved flow of information and better coordination between federal and local officials. Ridge pointed to security measures put in place at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as a good example of how federal and local law enforcement agencies can work together. By changing "the old relationship" between federal and local officials, Ridge said, governments would be free to devise innovative ways to enhance security and improve quality of life.
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