States Shoulder New Anti-Terror Burden
By John Nagy, Staff Writer; Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
The sudden scramble to shore up homeland defenses against every conceivable terrorist threat has placed significant new security and preparedness burdens on state governments across the country, a Stateline.org survey of anti-terror activity in the 50 states has found.
Over the last two months, with visions of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon still fresh and an anthrax scare of unknown origin yet to be resolved, every state has taken steps to guard against possible dangers.
Hazardous materials teams, police and health departments in every state have dealt with hundreds of suspected anthrax contaminations -- most of which proved to be false alarms -- even as officials revamp readiness plans to deal with potentially more dangerous assaults on public health.
Security at every state capitol is tighter than ever. Concrete barriers block vehicle entrances to capitol grounds and traffic is diverted from adjacent streets in Boise, Idaho. In Jefferson City, Mo., every visitor and employee must now walk through a metal detector. Indiana merged its capitol police force with the state police to ensure seamless protection and South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow has asked the Highway Patrol to move its headquarters into the statehouse in Pierre.
At least 36 states have established new offices or task forces to coordinate anti-terror efforts within their borders and serve as liaison to the new federal Office of Homeland Security directed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Of these, 19 states created formal security director positions comparable to the post President Bush created one month ago.
A handful of other states, including Michigan and Mississippi have held security summits of top state leaders, while six states Kansas, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington - maintained or tweaked programs in place before Sept. 11. Plans to create statewide anti-terror authorities are on the table in Alaska, Maryland and West Virginia.
Police and laboratory overtime are universal drains on state budgets. In most states, state officials have yet to formally count their mounting costs.
"Right now, we're still in the mode that there could be a potential attack, so we'll wait to assess the costs later," said Jim Harris, emergency liaison for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
John Thomasian, director of the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices, says the focus on "the protection of people and things," a fundamental function of government now cast in a completely different light by the events of the last two months, means "new costs never faced by the states before."
At a time when as many as 40 states are taking or considering emergency budget cutting measures, Thomasian estimates that quick-reflex anti-terror spending has already amounted to as much as one percent of states' total budgets.
Officials in most states say relevant departments are operating out of current appropriations until lawmakers reconvene early next year. Legislatures in a handful of states, including Florida, Hawaii and Massachusetts, have already addressed their new costs in ongoing or special sessions.
Unofficial estimates of states' anti-terror spending needs range from hundreds of millions of dollars through $20 billion, often depending on what's included in the calculation. Governors are turning up the heat on Washington to reimburse them, though few seem to know exactly how much they need.
NGA has asked states to tally their expenses in the preparation of a report and formal request for assistance it plans to deliver to federal Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and members of Congress later this year.
The strain on state resources is not uniform.
- Anthrax scares, no small matter for any state, topped 100 in Mississippi late last month, making a small but noticeable dent in the state's public health budget. But one Maryland lab, responsible for both in-state specimens and materials from postal facilities in neighboring states, is conducting more than 100 tests each day.
- The nation's 30 coastal and Great Lakes states include shoreline defense on their lists of prominent concerns. Eighteen border states face increased costs for policing international crossings. Major sporting events like the recent baseball World Series in New York and Arizona, the upcoming pro football Super Bowl in Louisiana and the Winter Olympics in Utah also have added new responsibilities and costs.
On the low end of the burden spectrum sits Delaware, a mere 70 miles from the battered Pentagon and Washington, D.C., a major focal point of the national anthrax scare. Greg Patterson, spokesman for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, says the state's public health system has been strained but state police have managed to rewire patrolling patterns to minimize the impact on their money and manpower. With no commercial airports or nuclear power plants to protect, Minner has not had to call on the National Guard.
Other states have similarly dodged extraordinary costs, so far. Illinois and Minnesota say their security expenses have not significantly increased. But Illinois Gov. George Ryan is proposing $100 million in new anti-terror spending and Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Kevin Smith says his state has avoided new outlays by deferring non-essential programs like the annual winter awareness campaign.
But then there is New York, where urgency has obscured the multi-billion dollar fiscal line between recovery and preparedness. Gov. Georgia Pataki has requested $54 billion in assistance from the federal government, $34 billion of which would go toward restoring Manhattan's infrastructure. Pataki's proposal has received a cool reception on Capitol Hill, although officials still expect aid to reach into the billions.
Some states far away from Ground Zero also fall on the high end. Hawaii is instituting new anti-terror measures in the shadow of an estimated $1 billion blow to the state's tourism industry. And in California, where major bridges were thought to be likely terrorist targets earlier this month, new security costs have soared as high as $1 million per day.
Somewhere in the middle is Massachusetts. Boston's Logan Airport served as the takeoff point for the two jets that leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Security at Logan and at reservoirs, bridges and nuclear plants around the state has increased dramatically. Lawmakers still unable to complete a budget for the current spending cycle managed to pass a $26.5 million supplemental security budget, providing enough money to train 150 new state troopers, fill equipment gaps and safeguard possible targets for the coming year.
"Obviously, public safety is a lot more prominent now," said Sarah Magazine, spokeswoman for Acting Gov. Jane Swift.
To view a state-by-state summary of anti-terror activity, click here