Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is aggravated about what he sees as Gov. Sarah Palin's antagonism toward the earmarks he uses to steer federal money to the state."The fact the state has seen fit to raise the issue of earmarks and the way they handled the bridge money has led to a lot of controversy back here and comment back here about the Alaska delegation and why they seek things the state doesn't want," Stevens said in a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Stevens said antagonism from the state is hurting his ability to get money for Alaska.
But Palin said that Stevens is "absolutely misinterpreting" her administration's attitude toward earmarks.
"This is another lesson in 'no good deed goes unpunished,'" Palin said. "My administration has tried to assist our congressional delegation."
Palin said the Alaska delegation, along with President Bush and the front-runners in this year's presidential election, have made it clear earmark reform is coming.
"You can either be proactive and be a part of the positive changes that are coming, or you can try to fight this new system that's coming in," Palin said.
Earmarks are directions that members of Congress insert into federal spending bills to direct money to specific projects and programs. Stevens is a top appropriator who pulled down nearly a half-billion dollars in earmarks last year in the Senate.
But there's been a backlash against earmarks with critics, particularly conservative Republicans, saying they are often a tool for powerful lawmakers to channel money to pet projects outside the normal budget process.
Oftentimes, earmark language is so coded that only its legislative author and intended beneficiary fully understand it.
In response to the onslaught of criticism, Stevens and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have begun posting earmark requests on their official Web sites.
A proposal to ban earmarks for a year could come up for a Senate vote as soon as today; Stevens said he doesn't think it will pass but "it shows the sentiment of a lot of people. I think it will come awfully close to passing."
BRIDGE AS TARGET
A common target for earmark snipers is the so-called "bridge to nowhere" plugged by Alaska Rep. Don Young into the five-year transportation bill in 2005. Congress stripped the earmarks directing the spending but let the state keep the money to use on the bridge if it wanted.
Palin ruffled feathers when she announced - without giving the delegation advance notice - that the state was killing the Ketchikan bridge to Gravina Island, site of the airport and a few dozen residents.
Palin's office said a state transportation official had earlier told Stevens the project was too expensive. Palin has said the federal funding was short and Congress clearly wasn't going to pay for the rest of such a controversial bridge.
Palin also declared last year that her administration was going to cut back its own earmark requests submitted to the delegation. Her budget director, Karen Rehfeld, wrote, "to enhance the state's credibility," state requests should only be for the most compelling needs.
The state requested earmarks for 31 projects worth just under $200 million this year. Rehfeld said five of them are new and four have been funded intermittently in the past. She said it's down from last year's request of 54 projects for around $550 million.
OVER 350 EARMARK REQUESTS
Stevens said he's had more than 350 earmark requests this year from Alaska - from municipalities, school districts, advocacy groups and others. That's more than ever before, Stevens said, something which he attributed to the condition of the economy.
He said it's tough to get earmarks now, and having them criticized in Alaska makes it harder. What's needed is for the state to chip in and share the cost of projects that receive federal support, he said.
"It is a difficult thing to get over right now, the feeling that we don't represent Alaska because Alaska doesn't want earmarks," he said.
Kevin Sweeney, state director for Sen. Murkowski, said Murkowski has also mentioned it's tough to push for earmarks if the state is saying they're not needed. Rep. Young's spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, wouldn't comment on how Palin's position on earmarks was affecting his job in Washington.
Palin, upheld by national conservative commentators as one of the leaders of a new generation of Republicans, said she's not trying to do anything to hurt the all-Republican congressional delegation's ability to bring money to Alaska. It's just a reality that changes in federal funding are coming whether anyone in Alaska likes it or not, she said.
"Alaska has got to be more self-sufficient. We've got to be given the opportunity to start producing more and contributing more, providing jobs for Alaskans," she said.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.