Gov. Tony Knowles wants to spend about $100 million to beef up defenses against potential terrorism attacks and to set up a state Office of Homeland Security.
Knowles laid out his five-part plan at a meeting in Anchorage on Monday, saying the extra money is needed to protect communications, transportation and public utilities systems, to expand the state's ability to detect and respond to biological and chemical terrorism and to train first responders.
"There is an increased price of freedom in this new era of terrorism," said Knowles, a Democrat.
Juneau would get a hazardous materials team if the GOP-led Legislature approved the plan. However, the price tag on the initiative is too high for some Republican budget writers, who say the state already faces an estimated $750 million deficit next year.
Although $56 million of the funding for Knowles' plan would come from federal dollars and other sources, the Legislature still would have to kick in about $43 million in state money. And that's too big a hit to the budget, said Anchorage Republican Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
"Absent new revenue it's very hard for me to advocate such a massive spending increment," said Mulder, who also questioned whether Knowles was using the terrorism threat to fund some items on his wish list prior to the Sept. 11 attack.
Knowles wants to spend the $100 million over 18 months on more than 130 priorities identified by his Disaster Policy Cabinet, which spent the past two months analyzing the state's security vulnerabilities.
The priorities include a proposal to train and equip a Juneau-based hazardous materials team to serve Southeast. The first of three funding phases for the haz-mat team would cost $425,000, according to a draft report on cost estimates compiled by the state Office of Management and Budget.
The governor also wants millions of dollars to hire 20 part-time, highly trained firefighters and more than 60 state troopers, six constables and 20 village public safety officers for increased security statewide.
Here is a sample of other priorities and cost estimates on the governor's wish list:
$100,000 to test drinking water and monitor the air for chemical or biological agents.
$3.5 million to purchase and stockpile moveable, temporary bridge spans in case important bridges are damaged.
$75,000 to study security requirements of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
$751,000 to buy short-term, risk-of-war insurance for state ferries.
$191,000 to hire two microbiologists to help public health labs test suspect samples.
$17.4 million for the Alaska Land Mobile Radio System to improve radio communications statewide.
$528,000 to place decontamination foam and trailers in six cities.
$515,000 to provide additional training to 1,200 law enforcement personnel statewide.
$300,000 for emergency firefighter training.
$60,000 for a contractor to develop bioterrorism drills and exercises.
$104,000 to hire a pharmacist to manage the state pharmaceutical cache.
$1.3 million to establish a state Homeland Security Office to implement the recommendations.
Some items are one-time expenses while others would require annual funding beyond 18 months. The governor plans to submit the Homeland Security Initiative to the Legislature for approval next year and to push for action in the first two weeks of the session, which begins Jan. 14.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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