updated 12/30/2003 2:43:00 AM ET 2003-12-30T07:43:00

The national terror alert system is threatening to create a new financial crisis if state and local law enforcement don’t begin to get federal reimbursement for their extra security costs, Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt says.

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In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, the former House Democratic leader said a reimbursement system was even more essential than a proposal made over the weekend by other House colleagues to refine the Bush administration’s color-coded terror alert system.

“I think it is worthwhile to look for ways to improve (the alert system), but the biggest failure here is the administration is not helping state and local governments with the economic costs of going to these different terror alerts. Every time they do one of these, the local fire, police, emergency service people are put on extra time duty. That costs money,” he said.

“One of the reasons that all of these state and local governments are in financial trouble is they have never gotten the funding from the federal government to do the homeland security stuff they are being called on to do,” he said.

Trust fund proposal
Gephardt, making his second run for president after an unsuccessful bid in 1988, has proposed the creation of a $20 billion terrorism trust fund, and he said Monday he envisioned that it could be used to dole out reimbursements for communities forced to pay overtime and extra security costs during heightened states of alert.

Cities like Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have increased police patrols and taken other security measures after the Bush administration raised the national terror level to orange, the second highest state, because of intelligence of a possible terror attack over the holidays.

On other issues, Gephardt said he remains concerned that it took two weeks for agriculture officials to complete tests on a sick cow that turned out to have mad cow disease, the first such instance in the United States. The delay allowed the cow’s meat to make it to the marketplace.

“That just ruins the efficiency and the ability of the tests to do what they are supposed to do,” Gephardt said. “That’s like letting all the horses out of the barn before you really know there is a problem.”

Over the weekend, the Missouri congressman offered a comprehensive plan for addressing the mad cow scare, including reimbursing the beef industry for its economic losses and keeping meat from sick cows out of the marketplace until tests show they don’t have mad cow disease.

With the first key election contests in Iowa and New Hampshire just weeks away, Gephardt said he expects to finish the final quarter of the year with $3 million to $4 million in new donations, about the same as the period from July 1 through Sept. 30.

Awaiting matching funds
With an expected infusion of federal assistance in January, Gephardt said he was satisfied with his campaign’s fund-raising performance, even though he significantly trails front-runner Howard Dean in the polls and cash.

“I think we’ll roughly be where we’ve been in the last quarter,” he said. “I think we are going to have a good year. We are going to have adequate funding with the matching funding to run a campaign in all the early states, and I think we are going to win this nomination.”

Gephardt also reacted to an AP report Sunday that Dean assembled an energy policy task force while Vermont governor that met in secret in 1998 even though on the presidential campaign trail he has demanded that the Bush administration open the secret deliberations of a 2001 energy policy task force.

“It’s just another example of why Howard is not going to be able to go up against George Bush on a lot of things he is criticizing George Bush for — because he did the same things himself,” Gephardt said."

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