SAN FRANCISCO -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's desire to transfer disaster response responsibility from the federal government to states or the private sector is "reckless and wrong," U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said Friday.

Nobody should know that better than Californians, whose state has seen 149 declared natural disasters since she was sworn in as a senator in 1993, she said at a news conference at San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Boxer gestured out the window, where a crane being used to construct the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge was visible over Yerba Buena Island -- a project deemed necessary after 1989's Loma Prieta led to the old span's partial collapse.

"As a nation, there are simply some responsibilities you can't shortchange or outsource," said Boxer, D-Calif.

The issue has come to the fore as the Federal Emergency Management Agency plays a pivotal role in helping parts of the East Coast recover from the ravages of Superstorm Sandy.

Romney, at a June 2011 GOP primary debate, answered a question about FEMA running out of money and whether states should take on more of a role in disaster response. "Absolutely," he responded. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."

At that debate, he went on to advocate cutting the federal budget, including disaster relief, calling it "immoral" to incur such debt.

Romney this week issued a statement saying that FEMA "plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to national disasters. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need."

State and local governments, he said, "are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by national disasters."

Boxer on Friday said "delegating or privatizing this essential responsibility ... would be reckless and wrong."

After serving in the House and Senate during five presidencies, she said, she knows it "makes a huge difference who's sitting in the White House" and "who controls Congress when a disaster strikes."

For example, she said, she and other Democrats had to fight to protect federal funding to repair the Cypress Freeway in Oakland after its collapse in the Loma Prieta quake, but aid and recovery came faster after 1994's Northridge quake rocked Southern California.

"Anyone who is undecided in this presidential race should ask themselves, 'Who do you want in charge when the next disaster strikes?'" Boxer said. "Please think hard about our need to have a responsive and passionate president and Congress when we face a natural disaster again."

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.