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Senator to Alaska: Enough talk about 'Stevens money'

Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Enough with the ''Stevens money'' already. Ditto all that ''Stevens effect'' hogwash.

The terms were coined as a nod to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and his prowess at routing federal dollars to Alaska. But the senator says chatter of this sort embarrasses him and may even hamper his efforts to get more funds for the state.

''I wish people would stop talking about 'Stevens money','' he mused in a recent interview in Girdwood. ''That doesn't go down very well in Washington.''

To Alaskans, Stevens has long been viewed as the primary federal breadwinner for the entire state. But since the late 1990s, when he took the helm of the Senate's cash-doling committee, his name been commonly used as a local monetary unit.

Not every federal allocation sought or secured by the senator counts as ''Stevens money.'' Rather the label is usually reserved for the many grants and special requisitions he champions as necessary for a young and needy state.

Such projects now making their way through Congress include $8 million for the University of Alaska for weather research, $4.7 million for a plant quarantine and seed laboratory in Palmer, $4 million for the Galena's on-line correspondence school, $2 million for a ethanol plant study in Southeast Alaska, and $1.8 million for a new visitor center in Fairbanks.

And last week, the 25 percent tax-free cost-of-living allowance for Alaska's federal workers -- long and loudly defended by Stevens -- was extended for another four years.

Millions of dollars are also drummed up for Alaska aviation, rural water and wastewater projects, highways and fisheries.

Stevens said while his successes attract attention, he records a lot of failures as well.

''I think for every one that I'm able to get approved, there's 10 that I can't get approved,'' he said. ''I'm worried sometimes that I'm going to be criticized for not doing better.''

His efforts do attract criticism, but mostly from outside Alaska. Citizens Against Government Waste, a group that watches over federal spending, this year slammed Stevens as one of the Senate's chief pork purveyors.

In 1999, Alaska led the nation in per-capita federal aid, according to the Census Bureau. The $5.3 billion allocated from Washington worked out to more than $8,500 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Neal Fried, a state labor economist in Anchorage, on Wednesday credited Stevens with being one of the major engines driving the Alaska economy, especially during his five years as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

''In most of the 1990s, we never pointed to the federal government as a source of growth -- the military was getting smaller and the federal workforce was smaller,'' Fried said.

''But the last couple of years of the '90s and up to today, that's turned around, and one reason is the significant increase in federal grants to Alaska.''

Fried said the ''Stevens effect'' is the Capitol Hill process that produces the ''Stevens money.'' He said both are well-known entries in Alaska's economic lexicon.

''Whenever we're discussing what's going on in the economy, it almost invariably comes up,'' he said. ''It's very commonly discussed, and everyone discusses how much longer he's going to be (in the Senate).''

Stevens, who will be 77 in November, said he plans to run for another six-year term in 2002. He's held the seat since 1968.

He'll have to give up the appropriations chairmanship in 2002 even if Republicans retain control of the Senate. But he said he will still be able to wrangle piles of federal money that he hopes Alaskans will start calling by another name.

''People (in Congress) don't look at it as 'Stevens money' -- they look at it as 'Alaska money','' he said. '' I think some of these things are counterproductive to even being able to do better in the future.''

Reporter T.A. Badger can be reached at tbadgerap.org.



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