Arkansas Senators Warn Against Ignoring Security Needs for Rural States

Comments follow a proposed law that would decrease the minimum homeland security funding for individual states


LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Rural states like Arkansas shouldn't be overlooked by the federal government when it distributes homeland security funds, the state's two U.S. senators say.

Risk factors shouldn't be the only standard for who gets the money, Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both D-Ark., agreed Wednesday.

Pryor and 14 other senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected an amendment Wednesday to an appropriations bill that would have given high-risk areas like New York priority for funding homeland security measures.

Pryor said in a telephone interview afterward that using a risk-based approach to determine where the money goes was shortsighted.

"We had an important first step today that we were able to get accomplished," the Democratic senator said. "I think we need to prepare America for the next attack, not for the last attack. We have no guarantee that they are going to hit an urban area next time."

Lincoln stressed the importance of protecting the country's food and water supply and noted that Arkansas was among the top producers of rice, poultry, soybeans and cotton.

"That affects everybody across the country that eats a hamburger, or eats rice or eats chicken," she said. "People are going to choose a target where you've got the least defense."

Lincoln said Arkansas also has several military installations, a chemical weapons stockpile, and a nuclear power plant that could be targeted.

"There's this continuing effort from the major metropolitan areas to use a high-risk type theory," she said. "I strongly believe that we should not be doing that."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the committee, is sponsoring legislation that would guarantee individual states a minimum of 0.55 percent of homeland security funding - a cut from the current base figure of 0.75 percent.

If the bill was authorized and all the money was appropriated, Arkansas would receive $16.1 million for the next fiscal year, a decrease from the $18.9 million the state was awarded previously. The Bush administration wants to slash the state minimum even further, to 0.25 percent. If that occurs, Pryor said, Arkansas could receive only $2.6 million in fiscal year 2006.

"It's very drastic," he said.

Pryor said the risk-based approach sounds reasonable. But "Basically, the way they want to quantify risk is just by population. They say that they don't. But if you look at how the numbers work, it's basically a population issue."

Dave Maxwell, deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, agrees. Maxwell said states that have strictly followed federal guidelines should be rewarded.

"We think Arkansas has been a good shepherd of funding that has been made available to us," Maxwell said. "We have had a lot of increases in our capabilities. I would like for them to look at states that have done what they asked and help those states as opposed to states that have equipment lying in boxes."

Maxwell said the heartland deserves as much attention as major cities on the East and West coasts. While rural states have different needs than population centers, Maxwell said they are just as important in preventing terrorist attacks. Pryor pointed to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City as an example.

"There is proof that we can have terrorism in rural America," he said. "It can be just as disruptive and take as many lives. I don't want to make suggestions on targets out across America. But we have a number in Arkansas. I think we need to do the best we can to allocate money to the states and let the states prioritize their needs."