Alaska awaits details of $789 billion stimulus

Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009

JUNEAU - State officials will have to hustle to make sure Alaska gets its share of a $789 billion federal stimulus package that could funnel about $1 billion in federal spending and tax breaks to Alaskans.

Few details were available Thursday on how much will be distributed to construction projects and federal programs throughout the state, but John Katz, director of the governor's office in Washington, D.C., said things will move quickly once President Barack Obama has signed the bill, which is expected to happen by Monday.

"Congress telescoped in a few weeks what would normally take many months to do through the normal appropriations process and the tax writing process," Katz said. "It will put a heavy stress on implementation by federal agencies and then by state agencies. My own view is Alaska is up to it."

Katz said the $1 billion estimate for Alaska includes expenditures in the bill and tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

According to information provided by the White House legislative affairs office Thursday morning, the legislation is estimated to create or save 8,000 jobs in Alaska over the next two years and provide tax cuts of up to $800 for 220,000 workers and their families.

Federal spending for Alaska will be funneled through existing formulas and grant programs.

State-by-state details of the plan will be in the final conference committee report, which had not been published as of Thursday afternoon, but Katz said state officials were getting briefed by federal counterparts in transportation, education and health and social services.

Officials at the Alaska Department of Transportation of Public Facilities said about $230 million should be available for state construction projects, including $130 million for highways, $70 million for aviation and between $30 million and $40 million for transit projects.

They are currently revising the state transportation project list which ranks projects based on their safety improvements, national import and readiness, among other factors.

Because of its short construction season and remote locations, Alaska is at a disadvantage under the strict timelines in the bill, according to state officials.

"Right now, time may be one of the biggest factors," said director of program development Jeff Ottesen. "In our state, with such a short construction window, if we are going to have them go to work this summer we have to be advertising this spring. That's just the harsh reality."

Officials also warn of "use it or lose it" provisions in the bill that could allow other states to scoop up funds originally destined for Alaska.

Ottesen said he expects the stimulus dollars will be used for many projects around the state, including improvements to the Dalton Highway, which links the oil fields on the North Slope to the rest of Alaska, and the Parks Highway north of Anchorage, as well as partial funding for a new Gustavus dock.

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