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Little new state money approved for anti-terrorism initiatives

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- In January, Gov. Tony Knowles asked lawmakers for almost $47 million in state funds for homeland security, but he ended the legislative session in May with just a fraction of that.

Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, head of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said the Legislature let the administration spend about all the federal money it could get.

Lawmakers also reimbursed departments for most of the emergency spending they did immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

But lawmakers provided little new state money for preparedness.

''The Legislature was doing more than deciding how much money we're going to spend,'' said Oates. ''They were also deciding how much risk they were willing to take for Alaska. In my mind they're taking more risk than I think is appropriate.''

Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said the Legislature provided a reasonable level of protection, given budget constraints.

''No government can afford to be 100 percent prepared for everything,'' said Mulder, R-Anchorage. ''We tried to take the steps reasonable people would take and provide our citizens with a reasonable level of security.''

The Legislature focused on using federal funds because homeland security is primarily a federal responsibility, he added.

In January, Knowles said the state needed to spend $46.7 million in state general funds, $48.8 million in federal funds, and $6.6 million from other sources such as international airport funds.

The Legislature went along with the federal spending, authorizing the $48.8 million request, but provided just $1.8 million in general funds and $2.1 million in other funds, according to the governor's Office of Management and Budget.

Administration officials said among items left unfunded were:

-- A state office of homeland security within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. It would have included representatives of key state agencies, such as Public Safety, Health and Social Services, Environmental Conservation and Transportation.

-- A three-person transportation security oversight office in the Department of Transportation to focus on threats to ferries, ports, airports, roads and bridges.

-- Proposals to stockpile replacement parts and temporary spans in case bridges are hit by terrorists and have on hand decontamination supplies for people exposed to a chemical attack.

-- A four-person Department of Environmental Conservation team to focus on preparedness for a biological, atomic or chemical weapons attack.

-- A request for increased security for the state's telecommunications system.

-- A proposal to add 66 state troopers, 20 village public safety officers and four constables to the Department of Public Safety.

Department officials said instead of adding law enforcement officers, they will be eliminating three positions in the coming fiscal year despite a $3.14 million increase in state funding. That's a reaction to rising expenses and labor costs, officials said.

''We'll actually have less than we had before Sept. 11,'' Oates said.

Mulder said the request for more troopers and village public safety officers appeared to be a recycled budget proposal from previous years that the Legislature had rejected.

''That stuff was clearly outside the realm of homeland defense and national security,'' Mulder said.

He said other requests, such as a state Office of Homeland Security, seemed redundant.

''We already had the emergency operations center, with a director or emergency operations,'' Mulder said.

Oates said the problem is the people working in that office had their hands full before terrorism defense became an issue last year.

''I still feel we need to have this office, but we didn't get any funding for it,'' Oates said. He has taken a couple of people from the Emergency Services Division and put them to work on homeland security.

Alaska will have increased protection in some areas, thanks largely to the federal government.

Federal money will help beef up airport security, assess the vulnerability of drinking water supplies and hire health specialists to work on bioterrorism preparedness, among other things.

The Legislature also passed some bills Knowles had requested that cost nothing.

One bill allows security plans for airports and other public buildings to be kept secret. Another measure toughens sentences for terrorism.

Lawmakers also agreed to participate in an Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which would make it more efficient for Alaska to help out, or request help from, other states during an emergency.



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