WASHINGTON – Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley told federal lawmakers Thursday that state and local governments have been “severely pinched” by homeland security duties and need federal dollars to keep communities safe.
“We cannot do more unless our federal government helps us,” O’Malley said at a news conference to back a Senate amendment to President Bush’s supplemental budget that would boost funding for “first responders” to about $4 billion.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and others, would set aside $1 billion for high-risk areas like Maryland and New York. Maryland would get about $21 million more under the amendment than under the president’s plan.
But the House Thursday shot down a similar amendment that would have added $1.2 billion for first responders, among other funds.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, argued on the House floor that the additional funds would have let Congress “do more than just wave the flag or pay lip service” to first responders.
They include the police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and others who respond immediately to local emergencies. The president’s supplemental spending request asks for almost $78 billion for military operations, including operations in Iraq and homeland security.
But more money is especially important “for those counties on the edge of their chairs every time” the security alert level rises, Mikulski said. “Homeland security cannot be done on the cheap.”
The need is especially acute in Maryland near Washington, D.C., she said.
“Every time we go to code orange, their budgets go to red ink,” Mikulski said of local governments.
She said a code orange threat level costs Baltimore an extra $500,000 a week in overtime. And Prince George’s County needs $30 million to make its communications technology work with Montgomery County’s system.
O’Malley said that the terrorist threats have “been a huge unintended expense,” biting into the budgets for the city police, firefighters and emergency response workers.
New equipment, like chemical suits and gas masks, is particularly high on Baltimore’s list of needs, said Deputy Police Commissioner Kenneth Blackwell.
“We get it in drips and drops,” but the city needs a steadier supply, he said.
Blackwell also noted the city’s high overtime costs recently, with police officers sometimes working up to 12-hour shifts. That’s not only bad for the budget, he said, but for the officers themselves, since working such long hours can make it hard for them to keep their focus.
Mikulski co-sponsored her amendment with New York Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer. He conceded that the bill faces a rough ride in the GOP-controlled Congress, but said he is in talks with Republicans to support the amendment.
“We need bipartisan support,” Clinton said. “This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue.”