Alaska back on top in per-capita federal aid

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A 10 percent boost in federal dollars directed toward Alaska last year returned the state to a familiar position -- the top of the heap when it comes to per-capita spending.

Alaska received $5.3 billion from Washington in 1999, which works out to more than $8,500 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Total federal spending in Alaska climbed nearly $512 million, according to new figures from the Census Bureau. While military spending remained in decline, the losses were countered by about $1 billion more for various construction projects.

Neal Fried, a state labor economist, said the cash inflow is reminiscent of the pre-Prudhoe Bay years, when federal government spending drove the state's economy.

''There's a little bit of deja vu,'' he said.

Federal spending in Alaska amounted to $8,521 per resident, about $100 ahead of No. 2 Virginia. At the other end was Wisconsin at $4,305.

Fried acknowledged that an immeasurable force behind the renewed federal boom is Sen. Ted Stevens, now in his fourth year as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The phenomenon has even gained a name - the ''Stevens effect.''

''Whenever there is a gathering of economists, the Stevens effect typically is talked about, and everyone smiles,'' Fried said. ''It's a well-known economic fact.''

Tax and budget watchdog groups constantly slam Stevens as a pork purveyor. Earlier this month, Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual ''pig book'' of big spenders, and Stevens was at the top of the list with $394 million in special-interest funding in Alaska last year.

Stevens' spokeswoman Connie Godwin said Friday that by directing so much money the senator is doing his job.

''We're a young state,'' she said. ''We have 40 years of catching up to provide ourselves with what other states have.''

Federal spending on roads and highways in Alaska climbed by more than $130 million last year because Congress boosted highway work financed with gasoline taxes. Stevens and Alaska Rep. Don Young were key architects of that bill.

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