N.J. security chief: State needs more funding for transit

New Jersey's mass transit system remains a potential target for a terrorist attack and needs additional federal funding to ensure safe passage for thousands of daily commuters, the state's top security official said yesterday.

"Anything that happens here has implications for New York City," said Richard Cañas, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. "Yet every year we feel like deadbeats asking for federal handouts to protect ourselves against what we all agree is a national threat."

Cañas' remarks came during a visit from U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which controls how funds are distributed to states.

Thompson visited the State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center in West Trenton before taking a helicopter tour of potential terror targets in North Jersey. Those sites included Newark Liberty International Airport, the Lincoln Tunnel, the chemical facilities and oil refineries along the New Jersey Turnpike and Port Newark.

"We need stable and continued homeland security funding and current or higher levels to continue our progress to protect the citizens of New Jersey and the greater New York area," Cañas said.

Speaking at the Port Authority administration building adjacent to the Lincoln Tunnel, Thompson praised state law enforcement for members' ability to work together and said he is committed to ensuring that law enforcement agencies around the country get the necessary funding to do their jobs.

Reps. Albio Sires (D-13th Dist.) and Donald Payne (D-10th Dist.) said they hoped that by bringing Thompson to New Jersey he could see firsthand the need for more funding for the region.

However, Sires and Payne both said it would be impossible to put a specific dollar figure on the amount needed to upgrade and maintain security at the various facilities.

Last year, New Jersey received more than $100 million in homeland security funds, an increase of 35 percent from 2006. There was also $176.9 million available for regional transit and port security enhancements, according to the state office of homeland security.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expects to spend $650 million in security this year, said Susan Bass Levin, deputy executive director of the bistate agency. Since 9/11, the Port Authority has spent more than $3.5 billion on security, she said.