October 20, 2004

America's Alaska problem

Politicians from the state of Alaska are trying to have their cake and eat it too, at the expense of the rest of the country. In this era of war abroad, security problems at home, and record-level federal deficits, every American is affected by the irresponsible behavior of Alaskan politicians.

At times when it suits them, Alaskans like to clamor for the federal government to leave them alone. Especially when it comes to wilderness land management, politicians from Alaska can be counted on to complain loudly about "federal government meddling" in a subject that is "none of the lower-48's business." Arguments that the Alaskan wilderness jewels are truly national treasures that ought to benefit all Americans fall on deaf ears in Alaska.

When it suits them to say the opposite, though, the Alaskan politicians have no problem changing their tune. Instead of asking the government to leave Alaska alone, they demand that the federal government take extra-special care of Alaska at the rest of the country's expense. Specifically, the Alaskans are never loathe to chase after the most outrageous and embarrassing federal pork. Two egregious examples are homeland-security pork and highway-bill pork.

Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is the king of highway-bill pork. The non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense awarded him the Golden Fleece Award for his attempts to include funding for two "bridges to nowhere" in the current federal highway bill. Young wants taxpayers to shell out $200 million for one bridge and $2 billion for the other. Both bridges would benefit virtually no one at a time when the country is running huge deficits, waging war in Iraq, and struggling to find a way to adequately fund everything from homeland security to education. And yet Young is not embarrassed in the least:

"I'd like to be a little oinker, myself," Young told a Republican lunch crowd in Ketchikan, taking mock offense at the suggestion that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, directs more pork to their state than he does. "If he's the chief porker, I'm upset."
Alaska is also guilty of gobbling up too much of the nation's scarce homeland-security funding. Under the current formula for dividing the federal government's largest source of homeland security money,
each state receives 0.75% of the $2 billion pot regardless of population, accounting for nearly 40% of the money. The rest is divided among the states on a per-person basis. Other factors, such as population density, potential targets and threat levels, are not taken into consideration (source).
The result is that Alaska gets three times the amount per resident than New York gets. Alaska's biggest homeland-security challenge is deciding what to do with all that federal money. One Alaskan proposal that was wisely turned down by the Department of Homeland Security was a new jet for the governor. No one with any sense of propriety could look you in the eye and say that Alaska deserves this kind of federal money when more attractive terrorist targets elsewhere are underprotected. Yet most of the Alaskan politicians do just that.

Don Young, Senator Ted Stevens, and Governor Frank Murkowski might be forgiven for zealously advancing Alaskan interests. But when these politicians are prepared to sacrifice the national interest for the sake of their state, the rest of the country should be alerted to their behavior, and act to stop it.

Posted by Carey at October 20, 2004 09:22 PM
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