The following op-ed, written by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, was published in the Seattle Times today.

In recent weeks, top officials in the Bush administration have stepped up warnings of a terrorist threat here at home. The CIA director says another terrorist attack is likely. The FBI director says "several hundred" extremists are training and recruiting in the U.S. Anti-aircraft batteries are stationed around the nation's capital. The Pentagon gears up for a possible war in Iraq.

The Bush administration has focused the nation on the importance of preparedness. But it has done a poor job of helping communities with the financial burden of preparedness.

Despite severe budget shortfalls, Seattle has spent nearly $6 million since Sept. 11, 2001, on increased funding for police and fire personnel, more training, more coordination between agencies, and increased security for critical infrastructure such as dams and power plants. Its goal is to be the most prepared city in America.

Cities are the front line for a response. When disaster strikes, people call their local police or fire department, not the White House.

Sustaining local preparedness work will require federal help. But so far, the Bush administration's record is not encouraging. The administration has not yet reimbursed local authorities for any added security costs. And the administration not only forced cuts to homeland security this year, but actually rejected congressionally approved homeland security funding last year.

How could this be?

It is hard to imagine, but the short answer is that this administration has other priorities.

Last August, the Democratically controlled Senate provided $2.5 billion in emergency homeland-security funding for the president to use at his discretion. Congress wrote him the check and he could decide whether to use it. But instead of helping local firefighters and police departments, the president rejected the funding and took a shot at the Senate, saying at the time, "I understand their position and today they're going to learn mine — we'll spend none of it."

What exactly was the president not going to fund?

  • $100 million to improve the communications systems of firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel;

  • $150 million in firefighting grants for equipment and training;

  • $235 million for security improvements at nuclear plants and labs;

  • $78 million for border security;

  • $125 million in port security grants; and

  • $555 million to help small and medium sized airports meet the more rigorous federal security standards, for increased Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers security costs.

After the president rejected that funding, the Senate tried again. Legislation unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide funding for first responders. But, again, the White House ordered its allies in Congress to cut $1.5 billion from what the Senate had passed through committee. And while repeatedly rejecting or reducing funding, the White House has trumpeted its commitment to homeland defense.

With great fanfare, the president signed legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, and authorized improvements at airports, ports and borders. He announced a plan for state and local governments to vaccinate 10 million first responders against smallpox.

But where are the resources?

Instead of backing up the rhetoric with resources, the administration encouraged people to buy duct tape. After the public outcry, the homeland security director was sent on the "Today Show" to demonstrate how to pack dry food into a duffel bag.

Unfortunately, it takes more than duct tape and dry food to protect Americans at home.

It is one thing to take photos with firefighters; it is another to make sure they have the tools to do their jobs. We cannot nickel-and-dime our first responders, and we cannot protect our people on a shoestring budget.

But that appears to be what the administration is determined to do. Instead of funding homeland security, the president has called for tax breaks on dividends.

Homeland security is a national issue and one that requires shared sacrifice. The federal government was founded on the principle, "to provide for the common defense." This White House is not living up to its end of the deal.

We hope the administration and its allies in Congress will rethink their opposition to homeland-security funding and rethink their priorities.

Dividend tax cuts are good for some of the people. Homeland security is good for all of the people.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, left, D-Wash., helped draft the legislation last year that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide funding for first responders. Greg Nickels, right, is mayor of Seattle.