Chamber delegates ask for more US funds for airport security
By Suzy Valentine
Miami International Airport needs $90 million more in federal funds to boost security, a chamber delegation told officials in Washington last week.
A Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce advocacy group has identified the airport as one of four cornerstones for ongoing dialog in the capital. Hurricane policy, immigration and international trade complete the key topics. Transportation also featured in the latest chamber visit ended Sept. 22 "but to a lesser extent," said the group's chairman, Lee Sandler, an attorney at Miami firm Sandler Travis and Rosenberg.
"We were very happy about the $21 million that the Transportation Security Administration released for an explosives-detection system on the eve of our departure," said Mr. Sandler, "but we need another $90 million from federal government."
In pursuit of that goal, the delegation arranged talks with the administration and the Department of Homeland Security. "The chamber scheduled meetings to discuss the funding," said Mr. Sandler, "and continuing staffing issues."
More than 100 additional security operatives need to be trained, said Miami-Dade aviation director Jose Abreu at the chamber's regional transportation summit this month.
In other sessions Sept. 21-22, the delegation to Washington discussed hurricane relief and mitigation.
Mr. Sandler said the chamber hadn't reacted to recent events on the Gulf Coast - though they had served to highlight the issue - but identified hurricane action as a priority several months ago.
"We've been addressing relief and mitigation since before this hurricane season began," he said. "We have been supporting the role of Florida International University in a statewide research alliance with nine other schools."
Chamber representatives also supported spending legislation to make for greater clarity in the aftermath of a storm.
Meanwhile, delays in visa processing present a potential impediment to trade growth in the region, the advocacy group contended.
"We know that the availability of visas is a great concern," said Mr. Sandler. "Sectors such as banking, health care, real estate and tourism could be impacted. Those holding conferences here or attending courses - given the focus on foreign students - could be deterred from visiting."
In the hope of expediting procedures, the delegation met with officials from Congress and the departments of state and homeland security.
"We need to clear a backlog. We made it clear that we need new legislation," said Mr. Sandler. "Thanks to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, there is a real chance of reform."
Talks with representatives from the Office of the US Trade Representative focused on bringing renegade states in line so that the Central American Free Trade Agreement can be rolled out in the New Year.
"There are still countries that haven't ratified that agreement," said Mr. Sandler. "We urged the administration to make findings so that all states can ratify it for implementation Jan. 1, 2006. We need an early conclusion on Panama."
Leaders of the chamber's advocacy group feel it may have to visit Washington more regularly than twice yearly to achieve some goals. "You have to talk when issues are ripe," Mr. Sandler said. "Smaller, more strategic trips will proceed as needed."