Niagara County lawmakers unanimously urged Congress Tuesday night to reject pending legislation they said would eliminate the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area's share of federal homeland security funding and shift that money to places such as New York City.
A lengthy and detailed resolution drafted by Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, came in response to a request by Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour, who warned the County Legislature about House Resolution 1555, an effort by a pair of Downstate congressmen to eliminate all but the 25 largest cities in America from a list of communities that receive federal funding.
Currently, the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region receives $5.5 million annually in federal homeland security funds, which works out to roughly $4.88 for every man, woman, and child in the region. New York City currently receives, on average, $16.51 for every resident. Western New York households surrender, on average, $13,334 per year in federal taxes, yet get back fewer than $5 for each citizen.
H.R. 1555, sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Westchester County, and Rep. Steve Israel, D-Suffolk County, seeks to drop Western New York's share of federal dollars for homeland security to $0 for each citizen.
"It's important that this Legislature and this county speak with a united voice in our stance against H.R. 1555," Wojtaszek, who chairs the Legislature's Community Safety and Security Committee, told colleagues. "What it is trying to do is not cut spending, and not cut the costs borne by taxpayers, but simply to divert money that's destined to help us in Niagara County and in Buffalo - a metropolitan statistical area of more than 1.1 million people - take that money that we need, and give it to other areas, like New York City and Los Angeles."
Wojtaszek said he readily conceded New York City had paid a heavy price during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but that fact alone didn't justify leaving other communities without the tools necessary to protect their communities. He also noted that Western New York, itself, had narrowly avoided potential catastrophe earlier this decade.
"New York City and Los Angeles are certainly targets for terrorism, but we don't have to go too far back in the history of this community to remember the Lackawanna Six," Wojtaszek reminded his colleagues. "These were people that actually trained in Afghanistan under the tutelage of Osama bin Laden, that were planning and organizing right here in our backyards."
Wojtaszek also noted that infrastructure located in Western New York was critical to securing the nation's borders against those wishing to do harm.
He also dismissed the rationale that terrorists would target a place like New York City because of its population size, while ignoring smaller big cities like Buffalo.
"You don't have to be a big city like New York City to be worthy of homeland security money. Look at Oklahoma City," Wojtaszek said. "It's in the middle of the Midwest, and it's not a huge urban area. It was the site of, until 9/11, the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil."
Wojtaszek said he was cheered by the U.S. military and intelligence operation that resulted in the death of terrorist kingpin bin Laden, but did not think Western New York could afford to drop its vigilance on homeland security matters.
"It's just very important that we keep the funds here to protect our citizens and keep our border safe," Wojtaszek said. "There's always a threat. And, I think it's going to be enhanced now because of the death of Osama bin Laden."