Begich Highlights Federal Benefits to Alaska in Legislative Address
Also announces Commerce field hearing in Alaska, Tribal Law & Order bill
March 31, 2010 - While casting the federal government as an evil-doer is a popular political pastime in Alaska, it's important to recognize the important partnership between Alaska and the feds when it comes to vital services and funding. That was part of the message delivered today by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in his second annual address to the Alaska State Legislature.
Begich said that while the federal government often deserves criticism when it comes to oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Second Amendment rights, the federal government invests an enormous amount of money in Alaska each year. According to the state's own Department of Revenue, the federal government spent $10.7 billion in Alaska in federal fiscal year 2008.
"That includes benefits for the military servicemen and women we so cherish in our state, retirement and disability payments to our seniors, and health care to about half our population through the Defense Department, VA, Indian Health Service and Medicare," Begich said. "For every dollar Alaskans send to Uncle Sam in federal taxes, we get back nearly two dollars in return. A pretty good deal."
Begich highlighted other significant federal investments in Alaska, including receiving more than six dollars for every dollar in federal gas taxes Alaskans pay, which underwrites much of the cost of road construction and maintenance; the $1.6 billion Alaska is receiving from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; and the nearly $2 billion in federal funds Alaska will receive next year in essential services from road improvements and Medicaid payments to school assistance.
"The federal government is more than a cash machine for Alaska," Begich added. "We're also getting results on Alaska's needs by working with the new administration and building important relationships across the political aisles in Congress."
Begich noted a number of federal issues and projects that are now moving forward including:
- Department of Interior approval of Shell's exploration plans for oil and gas development off Alaska's northern coast;
- Environmental Protection Agency approval of the draft air permit for Shell's project;
- EPA go ahead of Kensington Mine near Juneau;
- Seven cabinet secretaries visited Alaska in President Obama's first 14 months;
- Permanent reauthorization of Indian Health Care Improvement Act in health reform bill;
- A new research vessel for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Begich commended the members of the Legislature for their intense focus on the Alaska natural gas pipeline this session, noting Congress is poised to increase loan guarantees and other federal support for the vital national project.
"I agree with those who believe it should be the private sector sponsors of a gasline, not politicians, which determine the best project to deliver Alaska's enormous gas reserves to market. And I also agree that any gasline project must address the in-state needs of Alaska businesses and residents," Begich said.
From fisheries to Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, Begich said there are many issues important to Alaskans that come before the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is a member. Begich announced that committee will hold an Arctic field hearing in Alaska this summer so committee members can hear directly from Alaskans about the changes being experienced as an Arctic state, and opportunities climate change presents for Alaska including resource development, new shipping lanes and even tourism potential.
Noting the ongoing challenges in rural Alaska with high rates of suicide, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug abuse, Begich said he will introduce federal legislation to address those problems.
The Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act would increase federal support through a demonstration program for tribes and tribal courts. The selected villages would set up tribal ordinances and be empowered to set up tribal courts to handle cases. It would only be for civil infractions and not criminal, in an effort to supplement current state authority. Additionally, it would create the Alaska Peace Officer program for the selected communities to increase the law enforcement presence.
Begich's speech also included recognition of the service of America's military members, including the 30,000 active duty members stationed in Alaska. He said after visiting Alaska's troops in Afghanistan a year ago, he is making plans to return to the area later this year to make sure the troops are receiving the resources they need to get the job done. Begich referenced his support for the 3.4 percent pay raise all military members received last year as well as new legislation he just introduced to ease the financial burden related to moving costs for troops transferred from the Lower 48 to military bases in Alaska, Hawaii or Guam.
"One of my greatest privileges as Alaska's senator is making sure the federal government keeps its promises to our active duty servicemen and women and veterans," Begich said.