Alaskans Fret About a Future Without Help From 'Uncle Ted'
Thursday, July 31, 2008
ANCHORAGE, July 30 -- Alaska's vast landscape is littered with federally funded tributes to Sen. Ted Stevens's single-minded promotion of the state, from the brushed steel of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to the $187 million that subsidizes air mail for the one-third of residents who live beyond the reach of roads.
In his almost 40 years in the Senate, the octogenarian Republican in many ways defined the shape of the Last Frontier, not least by using his perch on the Appropriations Committee to ensure that his state's tiny population remained the nation's richest in federal spending per capita. More than $9 billion arrived in Alaska from Washington in 2006, twice as much as a decade earlier.
So it was perhaps to be expected that many here greeted the news of Stevens's indictment on corruption charges as if they were condemned to a pauper's death, fearful that they will no longer be able to depend on the largess of "Uncle Ted."
"There's no good that will come of this," said Jim Whitaker, a Republican who left the state legislature to combat the corrupt oil services company whose taint threatens to bring down Stevens. "For those of us who've been involved with politics in Alaska, one of the paradigms that we counted on in terms of funding public policy was the capability of Ted Stevens.
"It's not as though we don't have the capability to take care of ourselves," said Whitaker, now the mayor of Fairbanks's North Star Borough. "My concern is we're not used to it."
A third of Alaska's jobs can be traced to federal spending, according to the latest study by the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research. Many spring from military expenditures that Stevens encouraged during decades of service on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees defense spending.
"If he leaves the Appropriations Committee, how long do they leave the Stryker brigade here?" asked Mike Doogan, a Democratic state representative from Anchorage. "There are a lot of things that are attributable to him that are likely to dry up."
Scott Goldsmith, an economist at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, this month prepared the report, titled "How Vulnerable Is Alaska's Economy to Reduced Federal Spending?" The analysis noted that tightening budgets already had reduced the flow to Alaska, regardless of what Stevens is worth to a state where, at some point, all federal spending became known as "Stevens money."
"What I've told people is it's not really quantifiable," Goldsmith said.
Others say it is.
The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense said Wednesday that Stevens secured or played a significant role in 891 earmarks worth $3.2 billion to Alaska between 2004 and 2008. Divided among the state's 670,000 residents, the per capita figure of $4,872 is 18 times the national average of $263 over the same four years, the group said.
In Alaska, that amounts to a great deal of goodwill. Unlike the state's sole representative, Republican Don Young, author of the "Bridge to Nowhere" earmark and also a target of a federal investigation, Stevens long has been viewed as a statesman, interested above all in the state he helped found half a century ago, when he lobbied for statehood.