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Pioneer Editorial: Protecting our homeland, or doling pork?

The Bush administration on Wednesday doled out counterterrorism monies and Minnesota found itself on the short end.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded $1.7 billion in grants to U.S. cities and communities to prevent and respond to terror attacks and, to a lesser extent, other catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes.

Minnesota, under the program, will receive $13.4 million -- down $18 million from last year's $32.2 million.

The federal agency, having $119 million cut from its total funds for distribution this year, understandably wanted to prioritize its grant awards, but the question remains on just how the funds should be allocated to offer the best protection against terrorism.

Under the priorities for the current grant cycle, New York City, site of the first terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which triggered the need for homeland security, is getting $124 million, down from $207 million last year. That must mean Homeland Security thinks New York City is secure enough. And, Orlando, Fla., will get more than $9 million this year after getting nothing in 2005. That must mean Homeland Security thinks terrorists will divert from New York to Walt Disney World instead.

Previously, there have been pork barrel stories of some rural interior states with virtually no targets for terrorists getting huge amounts of grant monies for such things as armored tanks for law enforce-ment use to futuristic military uniforms capable of withstanding all short of direct nuclear blasts. The government needs to get a better handle on what needs to be protected from terrorists and what is pure pork spending.

But in Minnesota's case, we believe there is a valid argument for counterterrorism protection, especially with the current hype about building a fence along our southern border. Our border with Canada is as easy to penetrate as it is to row a boat from one side of numerous remote water bodies to another. Plus, Minneapolis and St. Paul are major centers for agriculture processing and hosts the nation's largest retail mall, a collector of people. The Port of Duluth serves international shipping, and needs adequate ways of inspecting all cargo. Add that Minnesota also has two nuclear power plants, and we wonder if cutting the Homeland Security grant by more than half makes any sense.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., agrees, calling the allocation to Minnesota "very troubling" and the cut "unacceptable and irresponsible." He has called for legislation to ensure continuity and accountability in how money is distributed to cities and states, so that it is consistently distributed where it is needed most.

The system as it is seems too arbitrary. Is $13.4 million enough for Minnesota's needs? Was $32.2 million too much? We don't know, and we should. And we deserve to be protected just as well as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.