Saturday, July 30, 2005

There Seems To Be Some Foolish Liberal Antipathy To Alaska

Written from Anchorage, Alaska--

Twice in the last several days, I've received messages from liberals complaining that Alaska is a sponge on the rest of the country, the recipient of too much in federal funds.

This strikes me as utter hogwash. It sounds like the nuts who said Seward's $7.2 million purchase of Alaska from Russia, in 1867 was "Seward's Folly."

Anyone who doesn't realize the inestimable benefit to the rest of the country of the state of Alaska needs to realize that in mineral wealth alone this state has returned its value a thousandfold to the union. This was the smartest thing Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, ever did, his purchase of Alaska.

Now, as is customary, whenever a state ends up with members of Congress who build tenure, and are successful in pork barreling, there's jealousy. There are always many whiners who feel that for every dollar paid by a state in taxes, a single dollar ought to be returned in benefits, and not a penny more.

If that principle were followed through, there'd be no money for defense of the whole.

But, surely, some states do better in Congress than others because they've elected the same members time and time again. Washington state, with Magnuson and Jackson in the Senate, was a good example a few years ago. When the eruption of Mt. St. Helens occurred, the result was that the federal government paid the full cost of dredging the Columbia River and all the other volcanically-caused damages.

But this was not wrong. It was a benefit to Washington and Oregon, true, but we all benefit indirectly when any one or two states benefit. The new federal budget contains hundreds of millions of dollars to start a new bridge which will allow Anchorage to expand. I say, hooray. Maybe next year, it will be Los Angeles' turn for subway funds.

Alaska is a huge state, one fifth the size of the whole Union, and, naturally, it needs more money for roads and other public works than small states. But a prosperous, well-developed Alaska will return many times what it is given.

There is a short growing season here, and a short tourist season. The economy has special needs. It is not easy to do business here.

But this is not a lazy state. Far from it. Alaskans by and large work hard at developing their state. They deserve every bit of support they get.

To each according to his needs. From each according to his abilities. It sounds like a Communist slogan, but it's important in any developing state. There's something peculiar about liberal views these days. It seems they don't want to do the things and spend the money to continue our tradition as a great country.

It's the same idea that you hear in Los Angeles that Southern Californians shouldn't contribute to a new Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Let the North pay for it, some say.
But this is the same kind of bunk we now hear about Alaska. If you have a state, if you have a nation, everyone contributes, and at times some places get more aid than others. That's what a state or nation are all about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not a republican or a conservative. You're a socialist fool. If people choose to live in Alaska, on a floodplane, or in Malibu, I don't care. Just don't force me to pay higher taxes to subsidize their idiot choices.

There is a crucial difference between paying for a public good--like a bridge that people would actually use (not some bridge to nowhere in Alaska) or the war--and subsidizing lazy people who decide to live in a wasteland.

Maybe Alaskans as a whole aren't any more lazy than the other 49 states...but they do get paid just for sitting around in the cold. Why don't the hard working people of California get some of that same government love you think is so great for Alaska? Why do the tax dollars of Californians go to subsidize Alaska, Missippi, Alabama, and Wyoming?

Why is Alaska getting the same amount of homeland security money per capita as New York City? Does that make sense to you? The answer is because our system is corrupt. The principles of the Gingrich led Republican revolution have been thrown out so that the pigs can gorge themselves at the trough.

I would expect this kind of nonsensical goverment as mommy subsidizing people's personal bad decisions from a democrat.

Between the pork barrel corruption and the pandering to the religious right special interests, the party I've voted for in every election since 1968 has abandoned every one of the principles that made it great. Where is a conservative to go these days? I don't know.

7/31/2005 12:12 AM  
Blogger Big B said...

Have a backbone and don't post anonymous. Your post is borderline hysterical too boot. Reminds me of a cariboo.

7/31/2005 6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, "Bri",

I promise you, I'm not hysterical. Just an angry and well-informed taxpayer. And I don't care if you know my name. I sign in anonymously because I don't like to sign up for websites and I can never keep track of the passwords.

Robert William,
Irvine, CA

Here's an article from USA Today written by someone who I think probably knows a lot more than some tourist.

Alaska thanks you
By Nick Jans
As you stand at the gas pump this summer, think of Alaska. No, not as a fantasy to escape the heat or the price of your latest fill-up. Instead, consider that each spin of the pump's meter means money slurping north, straight from your wallet.
If you live in Texas, Georgia, Florida or New Jersey, that steady siphon is a certainty — your gas tax dollars are funding a procession of lavish road and bridge projects thousands of miles away, including a pile of boondoggles that we Alaskans don't need, and that many of us don't want.

It's a fact: For every dollar we Alaskans pay in at-the-pump gas taxes, we get $6.60 back, thanks to you generous, unwitting donors.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan watchdog group in Washington, that breaks down to $1,150 for every Alaskan in "earmark" funding for in-state projects alone, 25 times what the average American garners for his or her home state.

How could this be? Alaska is so rich that residents not only pay no state income tax, but we get individual yearly checks as our share of the oil wealth. Why should your gas taxes, which are supposed to fill potholes in your local interstate or repair your decaying bridges, end up so far from home?

Bringing it home

Simple. We have Don Young. You don't.

The wide gap in the distribution of gas-tax money should be enough to make some taxpayers see red. Alaska, for instance, receives $6.60 for every dollar paid in federal gas taxes; Texas gets 86 cents on the dollar.
1 Alaska $6.60
2 District of Columbia $3.53
3 South Dakota $2.28
4 Hawaii $2.23
5 Montana $2.22
6 North Dakota $2.17
7 Rhode Island $2.17
8 Vermont $1.83
9 West Virginia $1.69
10 Delaware $1.60
11 Idaho $1.46
12 Connecticut $1.41
13 Wyoming $1.40
14 New York $1.21
15 Pennsylvania $1.17
16 New Mexico $1.12
17 Nevada $1.08
18 New Hampshire $1.08
19 Minnesota $1.07
20 Utah $1.07
21 Wisconsin $1.05
22 Iowa $1.03
23 Alabama $1.02
24 Arkansas $1.02
25 Kansas $1.01
26 Oregon $1.01
27 Maine $1.00
28 Washington $0.99
29 Mississippi $0.98
30 Nebraska $0.97
31 Illinois $0.96
32 Maryland $0.95
33 Massachusetts $0.95
34 Virginia $0.95
35 Colorado $0.93
36 Missouri $0.92
37 California $0.91
38 Kentucky $0.91
39 North Carolina $0.90
40 Tennessee $0.90
41 Indiana $0.89
42 Louisiana $0.89
43 Ohio $0.89
44 Arizona $0.88
45 Michigan $0.88
46 Oklahoma $0.88
47 South Carolina $0.88
48 New Jersey $0.87
49 Florida $0.86
50 Georgia $0.86
51 Texas $0.86
Source: Federal Highway Administration. Data based on a five-year average from 1998-2002. It includes discretionary funds.

As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, our lone congressman has incredible clout in determining where federal funding (provided by your tax dollars) ends up. The six-year, $295 billion behemoth of a transportation bill was approved in the House of Representatives and easily passed in the Senate on Tuesday. Young has bragged that the bill is "stuffed like a turkey" with high-dollar projects earmarked for his home state, totaling $721 million. In fact, Young is so fond of the bill that he named it TEA-LU, after his wife, Lu.

Here's a sampling of projects for Alaska funded by the Transportation Equity Act:

• $223 million to build a bridge nearly as long as the Golden Gate and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge, to connect the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the city airport on Gravina Island (population 50). Currently, the link is provided by a 10-minute ferry ride that has worked for years. This proposed project won Young a "Golden Fleece Award" from Taxpayers for Common Sense — an award he has told supporters he cherishes.

• $200 million for another "bridge to nowhere," which would lead from Anchorage, the state's largest city, to a rural port that has one tenant and a handful of homes. Total cost for the project has been estimated at upwards of $1.5 billion. Not even the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce wants it.

• $15 million to begin work on a 68-mile, $284 million access road to Juneau, the state capital, even though a majority of area residents have said they would prefer improving service in the existing ferry system instead. The proposed road would compromise so many ecologically sensitive areas that the Environmental Protection Agency, in an extremely unusual move, has stated its opposition to the project.

Of course, the ultimate beneficiaries are a handful of corporate interests (such as Couer Alaska, which is developing a large mine on the path of the proposed Juneau road), private individuals, timber companies and Young himself. By proving once again that he's Alaska's sugar daddy, the congressman cements his position for another term in office.

Meanwhile, transportation infrastructure across the nation suffers from neglect: More than 150,000 bridges, 7,500 miles of interstate highway and more than 28,000 miles of other roads are in immediate need of repair.

When both the arch-conservative Cato Institute and the ultra-green Sierra Club preach the same message — fix what's here before we build more — you know there's a problem.

Young is unfazed by any opposition, the essential unfairness of his actions, or the fact that he's squandering federal taxes at a time of record deficits.

"We make no apologies," he says. "If I hadn't done fairly well for our state, I'd be ashamed of myself."

His solution to budgetary shortfalls in TEA-LU? Rather than cut back, he actually proposed raising federal gas taxes further, though the notion failed for lack of support.

While Young may be the poster child for this new wave of tax-and-spend Republicans, he has plenty of company on both sides of the aisle. For example, Democratic Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Robert Byrd of West Virginia share a legendary ability to bring home the bacon. And according to the watchdog organization Citizens Against Government Waste, Young's fellow Alaskan in the Senate, Republican Ted Stevens, consistently has led the entire congressional delegation in his ability to pack on the pork.

'Oinkers' in Congress

Paying homage to the senior Stevens' success, Young once told an Alaska audience, "I want to be a little oinker, myself."

The fact is, most legislators want to be oinkers. Their constituents expect them to use every shred of influence and power to direct every possible dollar of funding home, as if their political lives depend on it — which they do. Don Young isn't any different or worse; he's just better positioned.

Finally, the problem far transcends the boundaries of TEA-LU, the excesses of which are mere symptoms of a deeply flawed funding process in dire need of reform. Even funding for the war on terrorism, with national security at stake, is tainted by abuse and waste, as are armed services appropriations; congressmen fight with the same tooth-and-nail ardor over useless weapons systems, bases and facilities as they do over funding for bridges and bus stops.

The antiquated system of earmarking pork barrel projects based on seniority or clout is, in itself, a costly bridge to nowhere — one we can no longer afford. A fair formula for distributing federal funds is certainly within reach; all that would have been required to drastically cut and reform TEA-LU was a simple amendment to cull all earmarks. Despite a few modest rumblings, nothing was done. Unless action is taken in the final conference stage, it'll be up to the president to carry through his threat of a veto of this monument to waste and excess, sending it back to the House, back into Young's lap.

Focus down, and think about it next time you're standing at the gas pump, all you donors. That steady gurgle is the sound of your money draining away.

Alaskan writer Nick Jans is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors. He also is author of the forthcoming book The Grizzly Maze, to be published in July.

8/01/2005 9:51 AM  

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