- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

Many of the nation's governors urged Congress yesterday to speed up action on new homeland defense funding for the states by moving it ahead of all other legislation on a fast-track basis.
Governors in both parties said that in the wake of recent terrorist-attack alerts and intelligence warnings of future threats, Congress could not afford to handle President Bush's fiscal 2003 homeland security budget request for $38 billion $3.5 billion of which goes to the states through the snail's pace appropriations process used to finance government programs.
"It should be an emergency appropriations or an emergency supplemental process. Congress should grab it and run with it. We've already had four alerts. We can't afford to sit around waiting for the appropriations committees to act. We don't have time," said Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
"Ask Americans what is more important to them right now: the campaign finance reform bill or homeland defense? It should be first things first," Mr. Rowland said.
That was the view of more than half a dozen other governors interviewed yesterday who heard a chilling assessment of the continuing terrorist threat to America during the second day of the National Governors Association's four-day winter conference here.
"The states would welcome prompt action by Congress on this. It's now been submitted as part of the president's budget. There's nothing that says that it has to wait until the president's entire budget is passed," said Republican Gov. John Engler of Michigan, chairman of the NGA.
"Given the past practices on the budget, [the governors] may not get their money for more than a year if all goes according to normal schedule. That's a long time to wait. It would be nice to put this on a faster track," Mr. Engler said.
"Washington should make it a higher priority," said the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Republican.
"As one of the states that was attacked on September 11, and with our nation at war, we need to move Congress along on this issue. I would be supportive of anything that will speed the process," said Gov. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat.
Some governors, pointing out that their treasuries were strapped for cash because of the economic slump, said they intend to bring up their financing concerns when they meet with Mr. Bush at the White House today. "I intend to raise this with the president," Mr. Rowland said.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who heads the White House Office of Homeland Security, and Dr. Donald A. Henderson, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness, briefed the governors on the homeland defense plans.
Mr. Ridge urged his former colleagues "to begin putting together plans" to respond to terrorist threats. He said the governors needed to work closely with local officials as "the first responders."
Mr. Ridge also said that the White House would soon be announcing a new national alert system to share information with state and local officials about future threats. "We have to do a better job of information sharing. We're going to do a better job of processing information and getting it down to you," he said.
Biological weapons "worry us most," Dr. Henderson said. "We're concerned that we have people out there with the ability to make large quantities of anthrax."
But when Mr. Rowland asked Mr. Ridge "where is the sense of urgency in the Congress" about the terrorist threat, Mr. Ridge said he did not think "anyone should be concerned. Congress is taking this very seriously."
However, that did not seem to allay gubernatorial complaints that congressional leaders were not giving the homeland security issue the priority it deserves.
"I think Congress should move immediately on this. We need to take the precautionary steps now so that there is never another 9/11," said Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho.
"This funding should be treated as an insurance policy," said Gov. Tony Knowles, Alaska Democrat. "The sooner the better."

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