Government Spending

The Subsidy State

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' accomplishments are worse than his alleged crimes

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A few years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested taking money earmarked for a notoriously extravagant "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska and using it for reconstruction work in Louisiana. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a fellow Republican, angrily declared, "This is the first time I have seen any attempt by any senator to treat my state…differently from any other state."

In a tirade that included threats to behave like "a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate," to "be taken out of here on a stretcher," and to "resign from this body," Stevens' insistence that all he wanted was equal treatment for Alaska may have been the least believable thing he said. During the last four decades no one has done more than Stevens to ensure that Alaska is treated unequally, receiving far more in federal spending than it pays in taxes.

The octogenarian senator's gift for grabbing dollars in the zero-sum game of congressional appropriations helps explain his easy victory in last week's Republican primary, despite his recent indictment on federal charges of hiding corporate gifts. Yet the "track record of delivering results for Alaskans" he brags about is more scandalous than the crimes he denies, exemplifying a pervasive, poisonous parochialism that flouts the Constitution and drains the Treasury.

Federal prosecutors accuse Stevens of violating the Ethics in Government Act by failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts (consisting mostly of renovations to his "chalet" in Girdwood, Alaska) from VECO Corp., a now-defunct oil services and construction company whose CEO has admitted bribing state officials. Stevens' trial is scheduled to begin on September 22 and conclude shortly before the November 4 general election, so Republicans could be stuck with a convicted felon on the ballot.

Although the government says Stevens "could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO," it is not charging him with accepting bribes, apparently because it does not have enough evidence of a quid pro quo. But if Stevens did help VECO with grants or contracts, it was of a piece with the "results" he has delivered for his constituents since he joined the Senate in 1968, and the amount of taxpayer money involved was a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of dollars he has directed Alaska's way.

From 2004 to 2008, Taxpayers for Common Sense reports, Stevens had a hand in 891 Alaska-oriented earmarks worth $3.2 billion. That works out to about $4,800 per Alaskan, 18 times the national average. And earmarks represent just a fraction of federal spending in Alaska, which totaled $9 billion in 2006 alone.

According to the Tax Foundation, Alaska ranked first in federal spending per capita in 18 of the 25 years from 1981 through 2005. In 2005 Alaskans received $1.84 for every dollar they sent to Washington in taxes. Stevens, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a dozen years and until his indictment was the senior Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, has played such an important role in this northward redistribution of income that federal spending in Alaska is known as "Stevens money."

Alaska continues to receive these subsidies from the rest of us even though its government, which collects neither sales nor income tax from state residents, is flush with oil revenue and running budget surpluses. Yet Stevens, who lobbied for statehood in the 1950s, still sees Alaskans, the biggest beneficiaries of congressional largess, as victims of a high-handed federal government.

During his 2005 tantrum over Tom Coburn's proposal to move transportation money from Alaska to hurricane-stricken Louisiana (a proposal the Senate overwhelmingly rejected), Stevens repeatedly invoked his state's "sovereign" and "equal" status, seemingly worried that his colleagues were disrespecting Alaska behind his back. His attitude was reminiscent of a beggar who not only demands a handout but insists that everyone pretend the money was his all along.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Interestingly, Stevens’ porkbarrelling antics may well pose the greatest threat to the McCain/Palin ticket yet should the Dems summon the courage to exploit it. Of course, since he’s likely a secret hero to them for his skillful embezzlement of the federal treasury on behalf of his constituents, they may to content themselves with their presently vicious ad hominem attacks on Palin herself.

  2. The read-through to Palin is that between all the federal subsidies Alaska receives and all the oil revenue, Alaska is simply not a very difficult state to govern: no income tax, no sales tax, few municipalities with property taxes, etc.

    Alaska has no rusty factories with layed off workers, no blighted inner cities (with the racial tensions that often accompany them), no illegal immigrant crisis, no subprime mortgage crisis, no retiree entitlement crisis, etc., etc., etc.

    So explain to me again why Palin’s brief stint as governor counts for anything?

  3. The man has an airport named after him and he ain’t even dead yet. That’s always a bad sign.

  4. He’s been a Senator for 40 years. Please, please send him to jail.

  5. Alaska is simply not a very difficult state to govern: no income tax, no sales tax, few municipalities with property taxes, etc.

    Are you trying to write against Palin? Lord Jesus, please don’t let her bring that kind of backwoods approach to government to the whole USA…

    Maybe you should modify your arguments to fit your audience.

  6. While many fools have been governors, the position itself–for any state–is no joke. Alaska has its own issues, though it helps a lot of have a small population and a lot of money.

  7. So explain to me again why Palin’s brief stint as governor counts for anything?

    Well she was the governor of a state with no income tax, no sales tax, few municipalities with property taxes, etc. And I read something about her taking on corruption in her own party. You know, like Sen. Ted Stevens.

  8. the position itself–for any state–is no joke

    Maybe not a joke, but as a nearly $2/$1 federal welfare state with oil revenue surplus and a population almost as big as Memphis, gravitas is not a term that comes to mind.

  9. Lord Jesus, please don’t let her bring that kind of backwoods approach to government to the whole USA…

    Yeah, we wouldn’t want someone who thinks a low tax burden and minimal government involvement in the economy is the norm, would we?

  10. He’s been a Senator for 40 years. Please, please send him to jail.

    I’d settle for a Stevens/Byrd cage match. With olive forks.


  11. Yeah, we wouldn’t want someone who thinks a low tax burden and minimal government involvement in the economy is the norm, would we?

    That would be notable if it wasn’t a welfare state among States. And to make matters worse, it seems some of her executive experience treats the welfare state surplus like a magical pot of gold.

  12. That would be notable if it wasn’t a welfare state among States.

    Yeah, it’s interesting how high-tax states like my own NY are the same ones that get screwed in the Federal dollars race. Could there be a correlation?

  13. Jacob, in the article, you use “insure” where you should use “ensure”.

    Alaska’s population is not that far off from that of Delaware. You could argue managing (or ruling over) a similar population spread over a larger area is actually harder. Yes you can. I’m not. But you could. No, Elemenope, you could.

  14. You mean Palin “exposed corruption” in her party by opposing the Bridge to Nowhere after everyone found out about it? Even though she supported it before then? Even though she still took the federal welfare dollars and stuck it somewhere else? How is that “exposing corruption”?

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