Md. Democrats criticize Bush over lack of funds for homeland security


State and local Democratic leaders lambasted President Bush yesterday for saddling financially strapped cities and counties throughout Maryland with the costs of homeland security.

Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Benjamin L. Cardin joined Mayor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. at Baltimore City Hall in a verbal assault on what they consider inadequate federal funding for anti-terrorism responsibilities shouldered by local police, fire and health departments.

"There are no homeland defense soldiers to come paratrooping in in case of an attack" by terrorists, O'Malley said, flanked by charts illustrating the discrepancy between local and federal funding. "Those first responders are our firefighters, our police officers, our health and hospital workers."

The elected officials took turns chastising Bush and Republican lawmakers for slashing money from federal budgets slated to pay for equipment and training to defend against chemical, biological and conventional attacks. Baltimore City and county governments have spent $11 million on such items while the federal government has paid just more than $1 million since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"If we do go to war, we have to make sure our military has the resources they need in order to protect themselves and to win this war," Ruppersberger said. "The same goes for our police officers, firefighters, paramedics and health officers."

The politicians said Maryland requires special attention because of its proximity to Washington and its sensitive facilities like Fort Meade, the National Security Agency and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Cardin said that about 20,000 police, fire and other emergency workers in Maryland lack the necessary education and equipment to defend against terrorists. The $2.1 million in federal grants awarded to Maryland by the end of fiscal year 2002 did not meet those needs, he said.

"We need a strong budget that allows our county executives and our mayors to do what is necessary so we can be safe," Cardin said. "Bush's budget doesn't do it."

O'Malley reeled off a litany of financial requests from the city for homeland security that, he says, the federal government has not addressed:

$1.8 million for equipment needed to handle and detect hazardous materials.

$3.5 million to help the Baltimore City Fire Department pay for a new fireboat to protect the port of Baltimore, which all four officials said is particularly vulnerable.

$4.85 million for enhanced communications, surveillance, chemical detection and protective gear for police officers.

O'Malley said the city also must pay for a $24 million conversion of its water treatment plants to systems that use bleach to purify the water instead of chlorine, a hazardous substance that could be turned into a weapon.

"We know homeland security should be a priority, and we are struggling to live up to our end of the bargain," O'Malley said. "The Bush budget does not match those priorities."

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