Stevens says earmark attitude is harmful

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Sen. Ted Stevens says Gov. Sarah Palin is making it harder for him to get earmarks for Alaska.

The governor says that Stevens is misinterpreting her administration's attitude toward earmarks, and her administration is trying to assist Alaska's congressional delegation.

Stevens is aggravated by what he sees as Palin's antagonism toward the earmarks he uses to steer large amounts of federal money to the state. The senator said when the state raises the issue about earmarks, it leads to questions in Washington about why Alaska is seeking things it doesn't want.

"The fact the state has seen fit to raise the issue of earmarks and the way they handled the bridge money has led to a lot of controversy back here and comment back here about the Alaska delegation and why they seek things the state doesn't want," Stevens said in a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

Earmark critics point to the so-called "bridge to nowhere" plugged by Alaska Rep. Don Young into the five-year transportation bill in 2005. Congress stripped the earmarks directing the spending but let the state keep the money to use on the bridges if it wanted.

Palin later announced that the state was killing the Ketchikan bridge to Gravina Island because of the expense.

Palin said the Alaska delegation, along with President Bush and the front-runners in the presidential election, have made clear earmark reform is coming. She said Stevens is "absolutely misinterpreting" her administration's position on earmarks.

"You can either be proactive and be a part of the positive changes that are coming, or you can try to fight this new system that's coming in," Palin said.

A proposal to ban earmarks for a year failed in the Senate on Thursday. Stevens said he didn't think it would pass. The bill failed on a 71-29 vote.

Stevens pulled down nearly a half-billion dollars in earmarks last year in the Senate.

There has been a backlash against earmarks, with critics saying they are often a tool for powerful lawmakers to channel money to pet projects outside the normal budget process.

In response to the criticism, Stevens and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have begun posting earmark requests on their official Web sites.

Palin declared last year that her administration was going to cut back its own earmark requests submitted to the delegation.

The state requested earmarks for 31 projects worth just under $200 million this year, down from last year's request of 54 projects for around $550 million.

Stevens said he's had more than 350 earmark requests this year from Alaska. That's more than ever before, Stevens said, something which he attributed to the condition of the economy.

He said what is needed is for the state to chip in and share the cost of projects that receive federal support.

"It is a difficult thing to get over right now, the feeling that we don't represent Alaska because Alaska doesn't want earmarks," he said.

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