FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska again led the nation in per capita pork barrel spending this budget year, a watchdog group said Wednesday.
Mainly due to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Congress sent $480 million in questionable funding to Alaska this fiscal year, according to the Citizens Against Government Waste.
That added up to $766 per person, or 30 times the national average, the group claimed.
As an example, CAGW President Thomas Schatz highlighted $400,000 appropriated for a parking lot in Talkeetna, a town of 300. That works out to $1,100 per person, a benefit that most residents probably would rather have in cash, Schatz said.
Stevens said last week he has nothing about which to be embarrassed. The citizens group has been criticizing him for years on the same grounds, he said.
''I don't intend to be deterred by them in the future,'' he said.
The group labels projects pork if they don't meet certain criteria, and Stevens disagrees with the criteria.
Projects get tagged if they are requested by only one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized by committees assigned that role in Congress' two-part spending process, not competitively awarded, not requested by the president, greatly in excess of the president's budget or the previous year's funding, lacking in congressional hearings, or serving only a local interest.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., attended the news conference long enough to express his embarrassment at Republican members' complicity in the process while billing themselves as fiscal conservatives.
He also noted an Alaska item -- $176,000 for the Alaska Reindeer Herders Association. ''I'm sure Santa Claus will be pleased with that,'' he said.
Despite making fun of such items, McCain said some may be worthy undertakings.
Rather, it is the way they are placed in the budget that gains his ire. Many arrive with no votes and no public review and often are passed in bills that aren't even read by the members of Congress who approve them, he said.
Stevens declined to criticize McCain's involvement.
''He's exercising his right to free speech,'' Stevens said.
Citizens Against Government Waste said pork, by its criteria, grew to $18.5 billion, a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2000 but nearly 300 percent above 1997 levels.
Some Alaska items in a summary of the group's ''most egregious and blatant'' examples include:
-- $60 million for the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary agencies, including $18 million for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries research center in Juneau; $4.35 million for Steller sea lion research; and $1.5 million for a law enforcement cold weather technology center.
-- $86 million in the defense bill, including $27.5 million for Northern Edge military training activities and $12 million for the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, an antenna array near Glennallen designed to focus radio signals on the upper atmosphere to enhance military communications.
-- $30 million for the Denali Commission. The commission is working to provide health clinics and modern fuel tanks in villages.
-- $57 million in the Interior bill, including $11 million to cover additional costs of subsistence management on federal lands since the state has declined to offer a rural hunting and fishing priority.
-- $61 million in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill, including an additional $10 million for the Denali Commission, $5.5 million for seven grants to the University of Alaska and $4.9 million to the Galena school district for its distance education program.
-- $76 million in the military construction bill, including $25 million for a modern staging area at Eielson Air Force Base, $24 million for housing at Fort Wainwright and $900,000 for a biathlon course at Fort Wainwright.
-- $67 million in the Transportation bill, including $20 million to the Alaska Railroad and money for the Talkeetna parking lot.
-- $22 million in the Veterans Administration/Housing and Urban Development bill, including $2.2 million for water and sewer improvements in Sitka and the Fairbanks North Star Borough and $2.5 million for an aircraft training simulator at UAA.
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