State projects in Senate spending bill

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and his band of appropriators completed the final three federal money bills of the season last week, again proposing to send multimillions to Alaska.

Stevens on Monday released summaries of the Alaska projects that found favor with the Senate Appropriations Committee as it prepared bills for a vote on the Senate floor.

Stevens is the committee's chairman through the end of next year.

There's a million for the Alaska Native Justice Center's restorative justice program. Two for local law enforcement drug teams. Three to the North Pacific Research Board. Four for a research laboratory near Homer. More than five to the state to run its new fast ferry, the Fairweather. And so on.

The committee also offered "report language" that encourages agencies to spend money in certain ways.

The committee, for example, strongly urged the National Science Foundation to continue supporting the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It told the Housing and Urban Development Department to give a priority to Native-owned firms on Indian housing construction contracts. And it said HUD should keep funding the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks.

As with such bills in past years, the largest single chunk of federal money would go to rural water systems.

There's $45 million in the bill funding the Environmental Protection Agency, which is lumped in the same bill as HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Millions for such water works have also been proposed in other bills approved by the committee over the summer.

Stevens also continues to seek large sums for ocean fish research and management through the bill funding the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A rough total of fisheries research and management items in a news release from Stevens' office Monday comes close to $100 million. Much of the money would pay for work required by laws such as the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the American Fisheries Act and for work by commissions in charge of various fish and marine mammals.

In addition, the bill would provide millions in aid to the fishing industry.

There is $20 million for marketing Alaska seafood. Regional fishery associations would get about $4 million. Another $3.6 million would pay for the Alaska Fisheries Information Network. The state would get $1.25 million to develop geoduck markets. The bill also includes $4.25 million to buy private, mostly Native-owned lands in southwestern Alaska through The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit group.

The Appropriations Committee also approved the annual transportation funding bill Friday. Stevens told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and other reporters that it provided money to extend a satellite-based commercial truck-tracking system to Alaska, weather cameras in certain passes for pilots, and other projects.

The bills must now go to the Senate floor. Once passed, they will be merged with the House versions.

Stevens said his spending earmarks in the bills should fare well because none force federal expenditures above the caps set by Congress last spring. Report language, which does not add money but suggests how to spend it, also usually draws little objection, he said.

"Agencies have generally followed our earmarks because they're not excessive," he said. Still, Stevens acknowledged that he would have trouble adding everything if he had to propose it to the full Senate, where his longtime critic, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others could block such amendments.

"I don't think I have to point out to you that I don't offer mine on the floor," he said of the earmarks.

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