As you may be aware, Alaska receives a large amount of federal dollars each year, a higher percentage per person than any other state. But a recent analysis by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research has determined that the amount of the people's money coming to Alaska has contracted slightly since peaking in 2005.
The report highlights a dramatic spike in federal spending in Alaska between 1995 and 2005, years coinciding with the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' expanding influence on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, including six years as chairman. But in the years after losing him in D.C., the state's total haul has gone down. In the last several years, it has leveled off.
And that has us concerned.
Now, don't get us wrong, we're glad that ISER found Alaska still gets 40 percent more federal money than the national average. And we're glad the state topped the list for total ARRA stimulus funds, even though its economy wasn't badly hit by the nationwide economic collapse. And we're glad Alaska's current congressional delegation is valiantly holding the line against attempts at slashing programs that help Alaskans. Their task must be tough in these times of endangered public revenue and world economic jitters.
As you may already know, Alaska's economy depends a great deal on federal spending. By ISER's estimate, about one-third of all Alaska jobs and household incomes are supported by it. Because of the large federal footprint in Alaska, we're not really all that concerned that federal money will dry up and go away altogether, no matter how bad the country's finances may get. After all, when a piece of infrastructure is built, a responsibility comes with it. You can't just build a road without maintaining it. You can't build a national park without staffing it.
Sure it hurts to absorb cuts to important Alaska programs and it's a hassle to fight for incidentals that crop up, but the good news is that you're not going anywhere. Not really. Therefore, we're not concerned with the plateau Alaska's share of federal funding seems to have reached. We're concerned for a different, but related, reason.
Hear the Hulk roar
Despite all the outcry since Ted Stevens' corruption case was overturned, despite all the calls for criminal charges and firings of federal attorneys, not a single Alaskan has made any noise about suing the Department of Justice over lost federal cash.
Since your department was responsible for botching a corruption case against Stevens during an election year, and since he narrowly lost the race soon after being found guilty in the flawed proceedings, many Alaskans hold you responsible for the federal money pipeline's decline in throughput.
The prosecution of Stevens might have turned out legitimate someday -- the world will probably never know now -- but it ended with his indictment and verdict overturned, the prosecutors sternly thrashed by a judge, and an independent special investigator excoriating your department on a range of improper or sloppy behavior up and down the chain of command. Someone has to make up for all the federal money the state started missing out on since voters ousted Stevens from the Senate, and it might as well be you.
Stevens stepped down as chair of the Appropriations Committee due to the standard six-year term limit, but he resigned as the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee due to being indicted. You may not know this, but Alaska pretty much always needs improvements in commerce, science and transportation. If Stevens hadn't been indicted, he never would have resigned.
Since the indictment wasn't thrown out until the election was over, it could be argued that Alaska jumped the gun when it showed Stevens the door. It might even qualify as a wrongful termination suit. Since Alaska isn't likely to sue its own voters for what turned out to be your blunders, you're the most likely target.
Alaska is known for filing suit over federal action at the drop of a hat, but mainly against agencies whose decisions may affect economic activities like oil, mining or fishing. Federal dollars aren't ore, oil or fish, but they're important to Alaska anyway.
Which is why we're concerned there hasn't been any action yet. Maybe the idea of suing an entire department full of attorneys is daunting, but Alaska used to be known for its daring.
Ted Stevens was hands-down the best rainmaker Alaska ever had in the Senate, so there's no real way to calculate damages. But we're certain Alaska could think of a number. And with sentiment about the federal government so shaky lately, the people of Alaska would have a strong case in front of most any jury. If it got that far.
With the country's debt mounting, the government would probably settle just to make the claim go away. Maybe after Alaska wins, we could convince Ben Stevens to come out of retirement and accept the ceremonial check.