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State Says U.S. to Be Generous With Anti-Terror Funds

Threats: Gov. Davis has asked for $350 million, and the California security chief says the risks remain, despite the passage of time.

January 28, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — State security chief George Vinson predicted Sunday that the federal government will be generous in meeting Gov. Gray Davis' appeal for $350 million to help offset the costs of fighting terrorism in California.

Vinson said he based his confidence on a meeting he attended Thursday at the White House with President Bush and Tom Ridge, the nation's director of homeland security.

It is not known how much financial support the federal government will provide, Vinson said, but "we are optimistic" that Bush and Congress will deliver substantial sums to California.

From Sept. 11 until Jan. 1, the state's anti-terrorism costs totaled about $120 million and are expected to increase to $400 million in the coming year, Vinson said.

"It's not in the bank, but this is the first step to say, 'The check's in the mail,' " Steve Maviglio, the governor's press secretary, said of the expected federal contribution.

Vinson, a retired FBI counter-terrorism expert, attended the White House meeting with security directors from other states for an update on terrorism and efforts to fight it.

To help fill a projected $12-billion shortfall in his proposed state budget, Davis envisions receiving more than $1 billion in federal aid, including the $350 million in terrorism-related expenditures. The Highway Patrol would consume approximately $90 million for a vast expansion of its anti-terrorist duties.

But critics of the Democratic governor's budget plan have said Davis should expect considerably less from the federal government because it is struggling with its own revenue and budget problems.

In a telephone interview with reporters, Vinson said Sunday that the president is expected to announce in his State of the Union speech that he will seek nearly $38 billion to wage the domestic war on terrorism. He said Bush described this as "only the beginning" of his homeland defense initiative.

The president's program will pay special attention to enhancing efforts to combat potential cases of bioterrorism, strengthen protection of the country's international borders and seaports, and provide training and equipment for "first responders," including police, fire and medical personnel, Vinson said.

He said officials want aid to be channeled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the states. In turn, the states would keep some for their needs and then pass funds to local governments. Police, fire and medical personnel would be a top priority, Vinson said.

Vinson said Americans may have switched their primary attention from terrorist threats in the months since Sept. 11, but "threats are still coming in" nationally and in California.

"We in the business are still concerned about credible threats that we have to analyze and prepare to defend against," he said.

He did not discuss specific threats, but said the federal government is close to announcing a four-tiered system to guide state and local officials in deciding when the public should be alerted.

Davis got himself into a controversy in November when he announced that four California suspension bridges had been targeted for terrorist action. The FBI later said the threat was not credible. Vinson has defended the governor's decision.

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