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Congress has found a new way to serve up pork and Alaska officials are ready to gobble it up.
All across the country, cities and states have been benefiting from the millions of dollars being passed out in the name of homeland security. Alaska's latest plans for spending money meant to stave off terrorists illustrates that these funds are sometimes more about getting a quick buck from the federal government than addressing security problems.
Alaska is slated to receive $19.6 million in federal anti-terrorism money this year, and the state wants to spend $2 million of it for a new jet that would be used by the governor, state troopers headed to a crime scene and Alaska inmates being shipped to a private prison in Arizona. The jet would replace one of two twin-engine C-12 turboprops.
State officials argue that the jet would be cheaper to operate and flying time would be cut substantially. The 10-hour flight to the Arizona prison, for instance, would be slashed almost in half. But since when did hauling Alaska prisoners have anything to do with national security? Even if a jet would save the state time and money, that's not the purpose of Homeland Security funds.
One of the arguments for the new jet is that it would allow for a faster response to emergencies. But that's only valid if disasters strike in major cities. The aircraft can't land on many rural airstrips, so other transportation will be needed if emergencies occur in much of the state.
Although Alaska often feels too remote to warrant safeguards from terrorist attacks, some precautions should be taken. These include additional security measures for obvious targets, such as the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, military bases and cruise ship ports. To that end, Juneau has been awarded some $94,000 to help ensure safety at its downtown cruise ship terminals.
However, channeling money intended for security into other state needs is hypocritical, especially for an administration that has stressed fiscal conservatism with its own dollars. Perhaps to some, these funds seem like a chance to pay for a few things the state couldn't afford otherwise. But even if it's good for Alaskans, it's irresponsible as Americans, especially when we face a federal deficit that is expected to be well over $400 billion this year.
The state needs to do the right thing and resist the temptation to gorge on Homeland Security pork. Instead it needs to funnel these dollars into measures that will actually safeguard potential terrorist targets.