Roads to prosperity

Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2003

Congressman Don Young, R- Alaska, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer, "For every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit spending that is matched by the state, 47,500 jobs are created or sustained."

The Bush administration is proposing to spend $247 billion on infrastructure projects over the next six years. Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says that is not enough. He proposes at least $375 billion in projects, mainly transportation.

"Nationally, our proposal will create more than 1.3 million new jobs over six years," Young said.

It is good news that the state has selected a $244 million bridge to link Ketchikan to its airport, and to the 36 percent of Gravina Island (22,000 acres) open for development that is not national forest.

It also is good news to Gov. Frank Murkowski and Alaskans who see benefits in the governor's plan for road construction. It is good news to many unemployed Alaskans. It is good news to construction companies and even good news to the state treasury, which will receive more corporate income tax as construction companies go to work.

The only bad news - and it really isn't that bad - is that to finance the plan, Young proposes a slight increase in the federal motor fuel tax. It also will require an increase in Alaska's motor fuel tax, now one of the lowest fuel taxes in the nation. Alaskans should at least pay the national average for the benefits they receive, for the jobs created. Alaska may not spend $1 billion on roads and new ferries and create 47,500 new jobs but one half of that amount or even a quarter would be a big boost to the Alaska economy.

Aside from Ketchikan' bridge, Anchorage's Knik Arm Crossing, the Juneau access road, the Bradfield Canal road and upgrading of many miles of Alaska's existing roads, the governor has proposed road development to boost local economies.

Widely publicized is his proposal to construct a 250-mile road on the Alaska Peninsula to connect communities between King Salmon and Chignik. That road facilitates exploration and development of petroleum resources on state and Native lands. With access to a deepwater port at Chignik, lower prices for cargo would result, meaning lower prices for area residents. It would provide easier access to neighboring villages and consolidation of facilities, including schools, landfills, clinics, visitor lodging plus numerous other public safety and social benefits. And, most of all, good jobs with the $285 million in federal and state fuel tax moneys expended for construction.

The governor also has proposed a road to Nuiqsut from the Dalton Highway, an access road to the Donlin Creek gold mine project up river from Bethel (it could include four stages, connecting the Kuskokwim to the Yukon, then to Ophir and on to Poorman and Ruby), and 18 miles of road between Tununak, Toksook Bay, and Nightmute. All have the same goal as the Alaska Peninsula project: open up areas for resource development and improve the lives of area residents.

A transportation construction program in Alaska, financed by bonds that are retired with federal and state fuel taxes, is a better way to solve Alaska's fiscal problem than invoking an individual income tax, which takes money out of the economy. Such a tax is supported by the Alaska Municipal League and the Alaska Conference of Mayors. What they really are suggesting is a reduction in take-home pay for each of their employees so local government can receive grants from the state to maintain a status quo in local government spending rather than creating jobs as Young and Murkowski propose.



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