Senators hope to restore Denali Commission earmark

Posted: Tuesday, February 09, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Sen. Mark Begich says he'll work with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to try to restore $10 million in federal funding for health care facility construction that President Barack Obama has proposed to cut from a Denali Commission program.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the senators were able to head off a similar cut last year. The commission builds clinics and elder housing in rural communities. The Denali Commission has steadily lost funding in recent years. The annual budget has fallen from about $141 million in 2006 to $61 million in 2010.

Commission Co-chair Joel Neimeyer said White House officials told him soon after his selection for the job in the fall that they'd be targeting earmarks.

If the commission lost construction money for the clinics, it could still help villages plan and design their projects while looking for other funding sources, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Neimeyer said.

"Maybe these clinics won't get built in the next two years, but I'd be surprised if most of them aren't under construction in the next five years," he said.

The Denali Commission was created by Congress in 1998 at the request of then-Sen. Ted Stevens to oversee spending on rural infrastructure in Alaska. It trains crews to weatherize village homes and replaces rotting rural fuel tanks, funds alternative energy projects and builds roads.

The president proposes pulling all funding for the commission's health care construction budget, which has parceled out $191 million over the past 10 years and has paid at least partial construction costs for 95 clinics across the state.

Begich said it was good to see the president planned to give the Denali Commission $11.9 million for its general budget.

That's just one source of funding for the commission, which gets its money piecemeal from multiple federal sources.

Begich and Murkowski are working on legislation that would pay for the commission through a single, predictable appropriation each year, said Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet. Last year, Begich proposed setting commission funding at the 2006 level of about $140 million.

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