This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
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Alaska's senior senator told it like it is when he addressed legislators last week in Juneau. No sugarcoating, hemming or hawing. Sen. Ted Stevens stood before a joint session of the House and Senate and said the state needs to start writing checks if it expects Congress to contribute to Alaska's wish list of big projects.
He reminded legislators of the numbers: The state has $34 billion in the Permanent Fund and a $1.4 billion budget surplus this year, while the federal budget is hundreds of billions of dollars in the red this year.
And yet Alaskans come to Congress, looking for federal cash for their favorite projects.
The fact that Alaska comes to Washington, D.C., with its hands out, reaching for money, while keeping its hands in its own pockets at home, not wanting to pick up the check, is causing ill will in Congress, the senator warned.
Meanwhile, an effort is under way in the nation's capital to restrict individual congressional members' ability to "earmark" specific grants in the federal budget for pet projects back home. "If the initiatives here in Alaska which began as federal earmarks are to continue - you're not going to like this - state matching funds will be needed," he said.
State funds? You mean spending our money instead of wishing upon a star for federal money? Say it ain't so.
But it is. The senator is right. The headlines and the jokes about the almost half-billion dollars in federal cash for bridges in Alaska; the federal deficit; the public's growing frustration with the inability of Congress to stop spending more money than it has in the checkbook; Alaska's oil wealth and Permanent Fund dividends; it's all come together to make it harder to get big bucks out of D.C. for Alaska.
If Alaskans want bridges and roads and whatever else, we should be prepared to pay for them. And if that means using some of the Permanent Fund or collecting taxes, that's our choice. It's not Congress' problem.
All the more reason for legislators to pass a sensible oil tax this session; one that boosts the state's share of oil profits at middle and high prices, while encouraging companies to invest the billions of dollars needed to keep oil flowing through the pipeline. And all the more reason to strike a sensible deal to get those same companies to put up $25 billion to $30 billion to build the North Slope natural gas pipeline so the state can collect its billions in taxes and royalties.