Ketchikan Daily News By Lew Williams
Some criticize Alaska for building "bridges to nowhere." Some members of Congress advocate taking bridge money from Alaska's share of the highway trust fund and dedicating it to hurricane relief.
Here is a better idea: The Woodrow Wilson Bridge upgrade at the nation's capital is estimated to cost $2.5 billion, or more than 10 times the cost of the bridge from Ketchikan to its airport on Gravina Island. Washington already has a bridge so, believing that charity begins at home, use that $2.5 billion for hurricane relief.
The Woodrow Wilson bridge connects Virginia to Washington, D.C. Considering the ignorance in the nation's capital about Alaska, the Woodrow Wilson is really a bridge to nowhere.
Among the congressmen labeling Alaska's projects as bridges to nowhere is Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. He should look home rather than toward Alaska. Arizona wants to widen more sections of Interstate 10 to six or eight lanes. I-10 begins in Los Angles and ends in Jacksonville after going through California, Arizona, New Mexico and the five hurricane-hit states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It is only logical that Arizona (and California and New Mexico) gives up money for upgrading I-10 and use it to rebuild sections of I-10 damaged by the hurricanes.
But before members of Congress start revising the five-year highway plan approved in July, let's look at what the Gulf states already are in line to receive. Those five states have about 1,000 of the 6,000 earmarks in the highway bill, giving them $3 billion of the $24 billion in earmarks. Plus, those states' share of the $182 billion trust fund in the next five years is $32 billion.
Incidentally, the staff of Congressman Don Young, who heads the House transportation committee, says that the appropriation from the highway trust fund for 2005 through 2009 - five years - totals $182 billion, not the $286 billion reported earlier.
Those five Gulf states receive 17 percent of the highway funds allotted among the 50 states. That is pretty good. And other states occasionally have natural disasters that require extra funds. In fact, just last week, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski issued a disaster declaration as a result of a storm that hit Bristol Bay in late August. And, we imagine that California, which receives the most of any state in highway funds while its members of Congress and newspapers criticize Young unmercifully, wants to retain some of its highway money for I-10 repair after the next earthquake.
Enough of this squabbling over highway money. It isn't all available until enough fuel tanks are filled over the next five years to provide the money though the federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon for diesel. What hurricane relief needs is some general fund money now. Alaska has the answer to that.
According to the office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, legislation will be unveiled in the U.S. Senate Oct. 17 to authorize oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The state and the federal government will share 50-50 in leasing bonuses and royalties over the life of the oil field.
Based on U.S. Geological Survey data, and assuming $24 a barrel for oil instead of the current price over $60, the federal government and the state would split $5 billion in bonus bids immediately. That is the amount that the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget estimate would be received in bonus bids for the first two leases in ANWR. They also assume further bonus bids over the next five years.
After oil is flowing, each government would receive at least $1.3 billion a year, and, depending upon the price of oil, each would receive $30 billion to $60 billion over the first 15 years. Actually, the federal government would receive more than the state, Sen. Murkowski's staff says, because the federal corporate income tax, assessed against the oil producers, is higher than state taxes. Then, of course, there is the federal individual income tax paid by those in new jobs created by ANWR production.
It also should be noted that under the 1978 Minerals Leasing Act other states could split oil lease and production revenues with the federal government if they allowed production off their coasts. We presume the hurricane-hit states already share in Gulf oil production, or should.
America will always need oil and natural gas for plastics, chemicals and resins, as well as fuel, so would we rather have money from leasing and production go to our governments and hurricane relief or to foreign governments, some of whom sponsor terrorists. Those who staged three bombing attacks in Bali last week, killing 22, were financed by Arab sympathizers, according to the Wall Street journal.
Getting back to Alaska, some of Congressman Young's opponents and some of our CAVE dwellers - CAVE as in Citizens Against Virtually Everything - have started petitions asking that the Alaska bridge money go to the Gulf. Maybe the rest of us should start a petition to close Eielson and other northern military bases with the money saved going to the hurricane area. Of course, it accomplishes nothing to tear the state apart, as our CAVE dwellers try to do regularly.
There is plenty of government money and a potential for more for hurricane relief without stripping Alaska. What's needed is money for the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and other nonprofit organizations that help individuals. When Alaskans cash their Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks this month, a few bucks would be welcome by any one of those organizations.