Alaska tops list of per-capita federal spending

Missile defense contract boosted federal funds for Alaska

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2002

FAIRBANKS - Even by Alaska standards, it was a big week.

During seven days in mid-April, the federal government issued at least $625 million in grants, loans and contracts in the state.

Such figures are part of the reason Alaska has the highest per-capita rate of federal spending in the nation - $10,214 in fiscal year 2001 - according to a U.S. Census Bureau report issued April 23.

The $625 million was announced by the Alaska congressional delegation in one of its occasional summaries of federal projects funded in the state, which usually run in the tens of millions.

The mid-April total was inflated by the contract to build missile defense test facilities at Fort Greely and on Shemya Island, which could run $325 million. The other $300 million will pay for items from upgrades at Ted Stevens International Airport to a study of Quonset huts, the half-cylinder corrugated metal buildings that dot Alaska's landscape.

Alaska had 627,000 people as of April 2000, according to the Census Bureau, and the federal government spent $6.4 billion in the state the following fiscal year.

Much of that money - retirement and disability payments, welfare, medical care, food stamps and housing assistance - was on par with other states with similar populations.

Alaska stands out on a per capita basis in other areas.

Its fiscal 2001 federal payroll was $1.4 billion, due in part to a large military presence. Alaska's federal payroll was just below the $1.6 billion spent on federal employees in Oregon, a state with five times Alaska's population.

Wyoming, another western state with a large amount of rural, federal land, had a federal payroll totaling less than a third of Alaska's, despite a state population of 500,000.

The second area where Alaska wins with the federal government is in the grab-bag of "other" direct grants issued by federal agencies. Alaska's total in fiscal 2001 was $1.5 billion. Wyoming got $865 million. Oregon got $2 billion. Utah, with three times as many people as Alaska, got $1.1 billion.

Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, has been a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for most of his 34-year tenure and is often credited with building up federal spending here.

Stevens said he doesn't think federal spending in Alaska is inappropriate.

"Really, the problem that's happened is not that the federal government has gone up," he said. "It's that the general economy has gone down. And I continue to worry about that.

"I think we have to do something to rekindle the basic economy of the state, which still is based upon minerals and oil and gas, timber, fishing and tourism. And I think all of those need to be stimulated."

A recent report from the state Department of Labor shows a 40 percent increase in federal spending since 1995.

The timing of the increase roughly corresponds with Stevens' ascendancy to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He became chairman in 1997 but lost the position last year to Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat. Stevens remains the ranking Republican member on the committee.

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