Federal spending and resource development drive much of Alaska's economy but both are threatened as perhaps never before, Alaska's senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in an annual address to the Alaska Legislature, said years of deficit spending have generated unprecedented debt that jeopardizes the federal government's ability to meet its obligations. At the same time, she said years of government overreach have limited access to resource development in the state, which could help reduce Alaska's reliance on federal funds.
The Republican, re-elected in 2010, offered a harsh critique of Washington, saying Americans have witnessed an atmosphere of possibly unprecedented "dysfunction and partisanship" in Congress that has compromised its ability to govern. She said the list of accomplishments out of the U.S. Senate over the past year is relatively short, and Congress has been unable to come up with the kind of solutions the country demands.
Murkowski said spending cuts are unavoidable but the question is how those cuts should be made. She said there must be a balanced approach that includes targeted cuts and an overhaul of the tax code.
Alaska can make a solid case for federal funding, she said, noting the state's demographics: strong military presence, large Alaska Native population, large numbers of federal employees.
But she said the state needs to be prepared for a reduction in federal dollars, prioritize funding requests and evaluate what the state can do on its own. And she said the congressional delegation and state must jointly oppose cuts that would most severely affect Alaskans, such as proposed cuts to national defense.
She said now, perhaps more than ever, the state and congressional delegation need to work closely together.
Murkowski spoke on the high cost of energy, saying families in some rural communities are spending up to 47 percent of their budgets on energy — so much more than families in other parts of the country that people have a hard time understanding the challenge Alaskans face.
She said the fastest progress on the energy front can be made at the state level but also spoke to the U.S. energy plan she recently released. She also talked about the potential that she believes exists for the state to export liquefied natural gas overseas to Asia.