Group condemns Stevens' spending; Alaskans say projects have merit

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Alaskans were served the largest slices of pork in the nation this year, according to a government watchdog group. But some of the diners involved say they received nothing more than federal-issue boiled potatoes.

The Citizens Against Government Waste issued its annual ''Pig Book'' here last week, listing billions of dollars in projects that detoured around the kind of public process the group advocates.

Alaska led the nation in per capita spending on such work. In fact, Alaska's $394 million in CAGW-defined ''pork'' gave it a per capita share of $636, exceeding the next two states combined. The national average was $25.

In the report, credit for the Alaska spending is given almost exclusively to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Stevens turned aside a request for an interview late last week as he spent long days in floor sessions on the annual budget resolution. But a press aide indicated the senator wouldn't have much to say about the CAGW report even if he were relaxing in his office.

The group has issued such a report for several years, and Stevens usually is a major target.

''We don't dignify it with a response,'' said Connie Godwin, Stevens' press secretary.

Hawaii and Mississippi were the second and third most well-funded states by CAGW's estimates.

''The common thread among the top three per capita states is that they are represented by powerful senators and appropriators -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Senate appropriator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii,'' the report says.

Godwin offered an alternative explanation for the figures. Alaska is a relatively youthful state, has a large military presence and a high number of federal employees, and contains 70 percent of the federal land in the nation, she noted.

In a listing of the 365 most ''egregious and blatant'' spending examples, CAGW questions $38.5 million for Alaska in this year's Interior appropriations bill. That includes $3.65 million for Denali National Park and Preserve and $7.9 million for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

''I would disagree,'' said John Quinley, National Park Service spokesman in Anchorage, when told of the ''pork'' label on his agency's money.

The Denali dollars will pay for improvements near the park's headquarters, including parking and road realignments to accommodate a new railroad terminal, showers, laundry and post office.

Most of the money for the buildings will come from the Alaska Railroad, the U.S. Postal Service and the park concessionaire, he noted.

The $7.9 million for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge has its defenders, too. The money will build a new headquarters for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Homer.

The money for the refuge headquarters will actually correct an absurd situation, said Derotha Ferraro, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce.

The agency currently rents six different spaces in Homer, paying $176,000 a year, said Karen Boylan, an Anchorage spokeswoman. A 50-year building for $7.9 million is a much better deal for the taxpayers, Boylan said. Land for the headquarters was purchased a decade ago.

''It's an unbelievable waste of time,'' said the chamber's Ferraro of the current situation. ''You go to your work and then to talk to your boss you have to drive six miles, then to do your research on puffins, or whatever it is, you have to go another place.''

It's not just pork for Homer, she said. ''We get visitors from all over the country, and they get to use it too.''

Tourists will also use the Centennial Bridge across the Chena River in Fairbanks. The $1 million federal allocation for the pedestrian bridge in the Transportation bill also was noted in the CAGW Pig Book summary.

The Transportation bill also contained a $10 million grant to the Alaska Railroad, and CAGW put that in the Pig Book, too. Actually, the budget contained two $10 million appropriations -- one for track straightening in the Anchorage area and one for systemwide track improvements.

Wendy Lindskoog, an Alaska Railroad representative in Anchorage, said the federal government provides money to Amtrak each year. Since the Alaska Railroad provides passenger service, too, it's equitable for the federal government to help here, she said.

Regardless of their merit, CAGW defined these and other Alaska projects as pork because they met at least one of seven criteria.

They were:

--Requested by only one chamber of Congress.

--Not specifically authorized by the full Congress.

--Not competitively awarded.

--Not requested by the president.

--Greatly exceeded the president's budget or previous year's funding/.

--Not the subject of congressional hearings; or

--Served only a local or special interest. 1/4

In recognition of Stevens' contributions to such projects, CAGW gave him the ''Who Wants to Be a Billionaire Award'' this year ''for using the other 49 states as his 'porkline' while securing more than $1 billion in earmarks since 1991.''

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