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New York State of Mind

Is the Department of Homeland Security really shortchanging New York?

12:00 AM, Jun 14, 2006 • By JAMIE DEAL
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NEW YORK OFFICIALS, along with the New York Times and other media, recently blasted Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff for announcing cuts in anti-terror funding to New York City. Instead of the $208 million given last year, the city will receive $124 million.

In response, an irritated Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared his city the most at risk. "When you stop a terrorist," he explained, "they have a map of New York City in their pocket. They don't have a map of any of the other 46 or 45 places." Representative Peter King labeled the reduction "indefensible and disgraceful," and went so far as to threaten the Department of Homeland Security: "It's a knife in the back of New York, and I'm going to do everything I can to make them very sorry they made this decision." Senator Hillary Clinton followed suit by calling the cuts "outrageous" and stating that they "demonstrate this administration's continued failure to grasp the unique security threats that face New York." Senator Chuck Schumer scoffed at the announcement with a hint of big-city condescension: "Georgia got a 40 percent increase. Somehow this administration thinks that Georgia peanut farmers are more at risk than the Empire State Building."

On cue, the New York Times published an editorial, "Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0," in which it accused the DHS of "dangerously [shortchanging]" New York and Washington while "[showering] money on Omaha and Louisville." As the Times sees it, this slash in spending just goes to show how little President Bush and the Republicans have prepared the nation for another attack.

But these criticisms ignore some key facts. The Urban Areas Security Initiative--the grant program through which DHS funds are distributed--was allotted $757.3 million this year ($119 million less than last year) and 46 metropolitan areas received money. Even after its 40 percent decrease to $124.4 million, New York got over 16 percent of the total funding this year. Instead of being "dangerously shortchanged," New York is getting more than its fair share--especially considering Chertoff's explanation for the funding readjustments:

"First of all . . . I don't think it's fair to describe them as cuts," the Homeland Security chief told a group at the Brookings Institution on June 1. "Last year, New York got $200 million. This year, we're going to give them $124 million under this particular program. But last year was an artificially elevated number to make up from the very low grant the year before. If you average out the prior three-year grants, you're going to see this year is directly in line with what we've done over the past four years."

This year's grant is not punishment for New York; it is a return to normalcy. Furthermore, this readjustment has not only expanded the Urban Areas Security Initiative to other large and vulnerable cities, but also reduced the program's overall budget.

Because of the reduction in New York and other cities' grants, the Los Angeles/Long Beach area got an $11.4 million increase, and previously neglected cities such as Jacksonville and Sacramento also benefited. In addition, Georgia's 40 percent increase--the one lamented by Senator Schumer--will help not only that state's peanut farmers; it will provide greater security for Atlanta, the state capital and home to the largest skyscraper in the South.

Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C.--a city that saw a $31 million reduction to $46.5 million in grants--claims the nation's capital has been mistreated, too. But by April last year, Washington had left $120 million unused. At the time, former Rep. Christopher Cox, who chaired the Homeland Security Committee, cited this as a prime example of government waste. Washington accepted the grants but lacked the organization required to effectively use those funds. It makes sense that the city would get less money this year.

Philadelphia and Phoenix, two of the nation's largest cities, were truly shortchanged. Philadelphia received $19.5 million, while Phoenix got $3.9 million--a little over three percent of New York's grant. Phillip Gordon, the mayor of Phoenix, called this year's grant "incomprehensible," as his city's dams and nuclear power plant make it highly vulnerable.

As with any such grant program, there are certainly flaws in the Urban Areas Security Initiative. Perhaps Homeland Security should reevaluate cities like Omaha and Louisville, and give more funding to places like Philadelphia and Phoenix. But this does not excuse the clumsy rhetoric of those who have unfairly maligned the department and ignored facts.

Jamie Deal is an intern at The Weekly Standard.