NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is blocking $20 million a year in annual taxpayer funding for the National September 11 Memorial.
“The legislation creates a permanent duplicative federal funding stream for a privately operated facility,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell. “The museum has received more than $75 million in federal assistance over the past two years and remains eligible to apply for additional funds from a variety of federal programs if necessary. Yet, this legislation authorizes at least $200 million over the next ten years for the effort, but does not include any provision to pay for these potential costs, adding to our more than $15 trillion debt.”
Almost 2 million people from around the world have visited the Memorial since it opened on the 10-year anniversary of the attacks. Coburn makes it clear he has no objection to the memorial and museum, just the annual federal funding.
“The events of September 11 hold a special place in our nation’s history and in each of our hearts,” Coburn wrote. “The national and personal significance of this tragic day has been, and continue to be, appropriately memorialized and remembered.”
“A full accounting of previously awarded federal funding, as well as detailed breakdown of the project with itemized cost estimates, would be useful for learning more about current sources of funding, and potential need for this legislation,” Coburn wrote.
Lee Ielpi, a retired New York City firefighter who lost his 29-year-old firefighter son Jonathan on 9/11, is speaking out and urging Coburn to change his mind.
“This is not a museum. This is a learning experience,” he said.
“I would say to him, ‘We need this museum. Not because of the museum, but because of what it’s going to translate when it comes to education worldwide’,” he added.
Jim Riches, who also lost a firefighter son on 9/11, agrees with Coburn.
“For the economic situation we’re in right now, to give them $20 million dollars with no oversight at all, and no say in it, I think it’s crazy.”
Government support for these types of memorials is by no means uniform. For example, the Oklahoma City National Memorial gets no government funding, but the U.S. Holocaust Museum gets about $50 million a year.
“I will meet with Senator Coburn. We don’t have the same political philosophy, but we respect each other. I’m going to tell him that this is sacred ground and we just want to fund it the way we fund other memorials,” Sen. Charles Schumer said.
Coburn’s approach isn’t sitting well with National Sept. 11th Memorial Museum and Foundation board member Debra Burlingame, who says that the memorial will remain a target for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
“These are very real security costs that shouldn’t be born by a private non-profit — that is a responsibility not just of New York but of the entire country,” Burlingame told 1010 WINS.
“Why would he want to stand in the way of contributing to the security of that site when the alternative is to put it in the hands of small donors — and that’s where most of the money has come from, the donation money is from small donors, over 900,000 of them,” Burlingame said.
“I invite Sen. Coburn to come down to ground zero and let us walk him through the museum that he hasn’t been able to see. This is a huge enterprise, it’s 70 feet underground, this is a very complicated security issue and he should come and see it for himself.”
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