The state pork barrel budget, known officially as the capital budget, takes shape in the arena of legislative secrecy.
That's why so many of the items in the budget are not given the advance scrutiny they deserve.
Such is the case with what is listed as a "Shootout Partnership" in the 2012 pork barrel budget approved a year ago.
The idea is to give free airline tickets to 1,500 Alaskans, as long as they agree to buy general admission tickets of $127 to the Great Alaska Shootout in November. (On Monday, UAA raised the price to $230.)
Something in the math doesn't add up.
The Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell approved the flight subsidy plan a year ago. The flights this year, expected to cost about $400,000, are part of a $2 million subsidy that is to extend from 2012-2014.
Some of the subsidy money is going to be used to pay more to visiting teams to increase the level of competition.
It started as a $2.5 million item in the House Finance Committee, won legislative approval as part of the 2012 budget and went to the governor. Gov. Sean Parnell cut the total to $2 million.
In looking just at the final budget approved by the Legislature a year ago, I can see why some legislators did not know of the plan to fly people to the Shootout from elsewhere in Alaska.
This is one of hundreds of items in the budget that didn't attract much attention.
Legislators can not be expected to know, much less be expected to be able to defend, what is on every page of a 180-page budget bill.
The budget bill merely has the words "Shootout Partnership" and the $2 million figure under appropriations for UAA on page 118.
You have to go to the backup paperwork to find out what the partnership means.
The backup paperwork did not say the flights would be free. It said they would be "greatly reduced." (Free is greatly reduced, but it leaves a little room for doubt. Certainly this item should have been the subject of public discussion in advance of its approval.)
The one-page synopsis does not contain enough information on which to base a decision. That is the same with many of the projects in the capital budget.
Over time, the Legislature has structured a process that leaves no room to debate the merits of items championed by legislative leaders.
Even the most hard-core incumbent should recognize that this system is flawed. It is an invitation to waste money. You couldn't take the one-page synopsis to anyone outside of Juneau and expect to get $2 million in return.
The Shootout subsidy is a microcosm of the glaring weakness in our system.
Legislators were told a year ago, on the one-page background paper, that the UAA Athletic Department planned to use the money to underwrite the cost of airline tickets. The background paper was stamped "$2,500,000 Approved" by the "co-chair staff."
"The funds will help stimulate the local economy as well as through partnerships with airlines, bring up to 2,000 rural Alaskans in to Anchorage at greatly reduced rates," the one-page summary said. "The plan to partner with statewide tourism will greatly benefit the state of Alaska."
Fairbanks residents are eligible for the subsidy, as are residents of Kenai, Valdez, Barrow, Kotzebue, Juneau and several other places.
A total of $2 million is to be spent by the 2014 on flight subsidies and on unspecified other efforts to "enhance Alaskan name recognition on a national level and invite new visitors to our state. Significant income and jobs are generated by the tournament."
The UAA sports department should have produced, and the Legislature should have required, information on the other aspects of the subsidy. In a newspaper story in Anchorage last May, UAA Athletic Director Steve Cobb also said that the subsidy money would be used to give more money to visiting teams.
That should have been included in the background justification, along with the dollar amounts.
The simple one-page form does have a question at the bottom that is supposed to reflect the level of due diligence expected when state money is being spent.
The question is this: "Has this project been through a public review process at the local level and is it a community priority?"
The House Finance Committee staff checked the box that said "No."
University of Alaska President Pat Gamble should order a stop to this waste of state money. It's not good for the university or for our state for it to continue.
The idea that our Legislature and governor would approve spending $2 million on a project that is not a community priority and has not been reviewed at the local level shows that the budget system our elected officials have come to take for granted needs reform.
Dermot Cole is a columnist for The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, where this column first appeared. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.