Parnell earmark moratorium unlikely to have impact

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gov. Sean Parnell’s decision to not seek earmarks for Alaska this year may be less bold than it initially appeared.

Rather than seeking Alaska-specific earmarks of federal money, Parnell said the state would instead work within existing programs to see Alaska’s needs are met.

The governor’s decision is likely to have little or no impact in Alaska. Last year, none of the $22.4 million in earmarks for the state Parnell requested were funded by the federal government, and earmarks are even less politically popular now.

Other earmark requests were submitted by local communities, tribes or others outside the state government process.

The state’s congressional delegation, all of whom support the controversial earmarking process, managed to get a couple million dollars worth of earmarks in the Senate omnibus appropriation bill that constitutes the federal budget.

“Under the current process, it is unlikely that any earmarks that were in the Senate omnibus appropriations bill will be retained,” said Karen Rehfeld, director of Parnell’s Office of Management and Budget.

That’s because the budget process this year was handled through a continuing resolution, rather than an omnibus bill.

That’s a far cry from the days during which former Sen. Ted Stevens managed to obtain hundreds of millions of federal dollars in earmarks to boost the state budget, but also made the state the target of anti-earmark crusaders.

This year earmarks have become increasingly unpopular in the nation’s capital, with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, imposing a moratorium on the use of earmarks and issuing a statement saying they were no longer politically viable.

“The handwriting is clearly on the wall. The President has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law,” Inouye said. He made the remarks in a statement earlier this month when he announced the Senate Appropriations Committee’s two-year moratorium on earmarks. Inouye is the chairman of that committee.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation objected to the earmark moratorium, however, agreeing with Inouye it inappropriately shifted Congress’ constitutional appropriation powers to President Barack Obama but acknowledging that earmarks would not be funded this year.

“I will honor his decision and not formally submit any earmark requests to the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.

Instead, Murkowski said she’d do as Parnell is doing and work through various agencies grant and allocation decisions.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said those programs have often not fairly treated Alaska because of its often unique circumstances.

“While I agree we need to look at every possible step to cut the deficit, I don’t agree with the decision to impose a two-year ban on earmarks. As I have said many times before, Alaska is a young state with many needs, and we deserve our fair share of federal funding to develop our resources and our infrastructure,” Begich said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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