WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Alaska should expect to see less federal dollars in the near future, but not because he is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"It is going to be a tougher period," Stevens said. "I see a reduction in what we call earmarks across the board for everybody, because of the circumstances we've just been exposed to in terms of the economic future of the country."
For most of the last eight years, Stevens has held one of the most influential positions in Congress. Except for a brief period when Democrats regained the Senate majority, Alaska's senior Republican senator has occupied, in addition to his personal offices, an ornate suite on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol that is reserved for the Appropriations chairman.
Under party imposed term limits, that chairmanship ends shortly after noon, Jan. 4, when the Senate convenes for the first session of the 109th Congress. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is due to become the new chairman of the committee.
Stevens used his chairmanship to greatly increase some categories of federal spending in Alaska. But he believes that vast pressures on the federal budget may soon freeze that growth.
Stevens doesn't expect his stepping down as Appropriations chairman will end his influence in the Senate.
"I am the senior member of the majority party. I don't expect to be ignored, no matter where I am," he said.
Where he will be now is leading meetings of the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee. Stevens expects to accept that committee's gavel from his fellow Republican and sometimes stinging critic, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain's criticism has often struck at Stevens' earmarks, the spending that Alaska's senator adds at the request of Alaskans.
After Stevens took the chairmanship of the committee, most categories of federal spending in Alaska did not change much, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Consolidated Federal Funds Reports.
But by 2003, the per capita grant total had grown to about $4,650 per person in Alaska, according to the latest Census Bureau figures.