9/11: A day to remember -- with a holiday?
As he always does on Sept. 11, Ed Casso spent much of the day last year in his living room watching the solemn memorials on television.
It had been precisely seven years since terrorists hijacked commercial jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Casso, 34, could feel the passage of time taking its toll.
“Every year there’s a little less coverage,” he said. “Every year there’s a little less feeling.”
A state representative starting his second term, Casso decided to take action. Last week, as the Colorado Legislature began its session, he introduced a bill to make Sept. 11 a state holiday.
Several lawmakers across the nation have made similar recommendations, but no state has been willing to mark the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil with a holiday.
Even the Legislature in New York, where the most casualties occurred, balked at making Sept. 11 a holiday. In 2002, that state’s Assembly called for a holiday, but the Senate objected. It is an official day of remembrance, but state offices remain open.
The reason is, in large part, money.
Casso said he was warned that a new holiday could cost Colorado $3 million. In larger states like New York, the potential bill would be much higher: When its Legislature considered making Sept. 11 a holiday, the New York state comptroller estimated it would cost $43 million to pay state workers for one day.
“Due in part to the cost associated with creating a new state holiday, we thought it was more appropriate to have a day of remembrance,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the New York State Senate.
Some advocates of a holiday have tried creative ways to get around the fiscal barrier. Former Montana state Sen. Don Ryan in 2007 proposed swapping Sept. 11 with Columbus Day, a day he felt didn’t necessarily need to remain a state holiday. There would have been no increased cost.
“I was surprised by the resistance we ran into,” the Democrat said. Italian Americans objected strenuously, and the bill was voted down. “One of the opponents said, ‘Why don’t you take away St. Patrick’s Day?’ ” Ryan recalled.
Another objection has been raised to the idea in several states: that a day off may not be the best way to commemorate the attacks.
Opponents have noted that Dec. 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is not a holiday. Reif said that some New York legislators were concerned a holiday could give people license to party rather than reflect.
In Peabody, Mass., the City Council last week agreed to give police officers holiday pay for working Sept. 11, though some critics accused the union there of exploiting the tragedy.
Casso, a Democrat, said that in his mind, Sept. 11 would remain appropriately solemn even if it were a day off.
Casso is a voluble substitute teacher whose cellphone rings with the “Star Wars” theme and whose MySpace page lists his fears as “another four minutes of the Bush administration.” Ever since he was elected to represent a swath of moderate Denver suburbs, he has longed to propose the holiday.
As a freshman legislator, he was wary of introducing a bill. But he said he couldn’t hold back any longer this year, even though the state’s budget crunch -- lawmakers may have to slash $600 million in spending -- has forced him to scale back his vision.
His bill calls for state employees to be allowed to substitute Sept. 11 as a day off in exchange for any other of Colorado’s 10 state holidays. That avoids extra costs, for now.
The bill isn’t scheduled to be heard until next month, and Casso said he hoped to find ways to ensure it is phased in as a full-time holiday when the fiscal situation improves.
“I don’t want us to ever forget this,” Casso said of the Sept. 11 attacks. “If you forget what has happened, it tends to repeat itself.”
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