WASHINGTON -- Alaska's lawmakers in Washington, D.C., had mixed reactions to President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal, pleased with the boosts for Alaska infrastructure but not so much with the size of the $4 trillion spending plan.
The White House released Obama's final budget request Tuesday, a spending outline for the federal government in fiscal year 2017 that's loaded with long-shot requests that are unlikely to gain traction in a Republican-controlled Congress. In those many provisions, the White House included requests for Alaska stemming from Obama's visit to the state last summer. And the cover of the budget request was even adorned with a photo of Denali.
Sen. Dan Sullivan said he appreciated that Obama's visit to the state "is reflected in his budget" and noted a $150 million funding request toward a new icebreaker and funding aimed at shoring up rural infrastructure in the state. "It's unacceptable that more than 3,300 rural Alaska homes lack running water and a flush toilet," Sullivan said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski noted that "many of the Alaska-specific provisions in his request are items that I have been pushing for quite some time." She pointed to a funding proposal for Alaskans affected by climate change that harkens a bill she passed out of the energy committee last year, her efforts to acquire a new polar icebreaker and a boost to the state's share of the military's construction budget.
Rep. Don Young said he also appreciated the attention the proposal gave to Alaska and the Arctic.
But in the end, the budget "is more of the same – an explosion of new taxes, no constraints on our skyrocketing federal debt, and a double down of failed federal policies," Young said in a statement, calling Obama's budget "frustratingly insincere" and full of "pie-in-the-sky funding mechanisms."
Young and others were particularly displeased with Obama's proposal to create a $10-per-barrel oil tax that would fund transportation infrastructure.
"A $10 tax on every barrel of oil would cripple Alaska's economy, which is already reeling from low oil prices," Sullivan said.
Sullivan also argued that the budget is too heavy on debt and low on spending cuts.
Murkowski panned the oil tax suggestion and even released a report she requested from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service that said the plan would likely boost energy prices for consumers and could lead to a host of negative economic consequences. And she noted that the president's proposal would lower funding that helps poor families pay high heat bills -- the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program -- a cut she called "devastating."
Murkowski said she hopes to implement some of the proposals, "but in a rational, reasonable, and responsible way that spends less than the president proposes."
Gov. Bill Walker, meanwhile, weighed in on a more positive note, saying that the proposed funding "could help to fulfill a number of Alaska's Arctic policy priorities, such as boosting coastal resilience, enhancing energy opportunities, building icebreaker capabilities and infrastructure development. The money could go a long way in helping... to assist the residents of Kivalina as they grapple with coastal erosion."