The next time the terror-alert level is raised to "orange," you may want to avoid being in Arizona.
That's because the state is considering staying at "yellow" in order to avoid extra financial costs, according to a recent story in The Arizona Republic. In the article, Arizona's homeland-security director, Frank Navarrete, says, "It creates incredible problems: overtime, financial, functional. It's not quite to the point where it creates havoc, but it's quite disruptive." Next time the federal government goes to orange, he says, "I believe that, based upon our own intelligence, I'm of the mind-set that we don't have to follow suit."
Of course, Arizona hasn't been the center so far in terms of terrorism concerns; much more attention has focused on the coasts, particularly cities such as New York, Washington, Boston and Los Angeles. But the reason for Arizona's decision is particularly troubling. We just spent billions of dollars fighting a war with the stated goal of removing a dictator who, we were told, posed a threat to us. The Bush administration's focus since the September 11 attacks has been homeland security and the war on terrorism; indeed, those are the topics President Bush is planning to build his re-election campaign around. Yet the president pushed -- and Congress approved -- a $350 billion tax cut that will result in the transfer of more costs to the state and local levels. And so Arizona is now forced to weigh whether it can afford to offer what federal officials determine is the protection necessary to safeguard its citizens. There's a disconnect here that's, to say the least, a bit alarming.
The Arizona Republic article notes that the nation has already gone to orange alert four times; thankfully, nothing has happened. States and local governments don't have to follow the government's alert levels, but there's presumably a good reason why Washington feels they need to be raised. And while there's no way of knowing how many more times the terror level will rise, each instance is guaranteed to cost states more money. Arizona's homeland-security costs have already run in excess of $3.5 million, the article says; the state has $24 million for two more years.
Boston represents a different case. Two of the four planes that crashed on September 11 took off from Logan International Airport. Yet, in a recent speech at the National Press Club, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) complained, according to the Boston Herald, "Where's the money? Washington can no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore the fiscal plight of the states and consequently cities."
Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) also raised the issue before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs last month. He said Massachusetts has put $53 million toward homeland security since September 11, according to an Associated Press article. Missouri has spent far less, but a spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Holden (D) noted in the same story, "There's just not enough money."
The fact that state and local governments are complaining about a lack of funds isn't new. The faltering economy, Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001 and the fact that state governments must balance their budgets have put tremendous strains on state capitals. But it's disturbing that the White House continues to ignore the states' cries for help -- and worsen their plight -- by passing new tax cuts that will only add to their burdens. I'm sure if the debate about the tax cut had been framed to ask, "Would you rather get a small tax rebate or feel safer the next time there's an increase in terrorist chatter?" the vote to reject it wouldn't have even been close.
President Bush likes to talk about the importance of first responders in the event of another terrorist attack. But by squeezing the budgets of state and local governments, he's restricting their abilities to carry out their responsibilities. Unlike the federal government, states can't just add today's homeland-security funding needs to tomorrow's debt. That means something's going to have to give. None of the choices is good: increased taxes and reduced services for citizens, pay freezes for state employees or a conscious decision to ignore federal security recommendations. Americans are already worried about another terrorist attack. The Bush administration is just giving them one more reason to be concerned.
Mary Lynn F. Jones is a Prospect senior editor.