Bethany Marcum: What pet projects are Alaskans paying for?

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By BETHANY MARCUM

While the bulk of state expenditures occur via the operating budget, the capital budget is a separate lever policymakers often use to cut or increase the state’s overall spending. This year, due in part to high oil revenue, they wedged many pet projects into the capital budget. This is unfortunate, unsurprising, and irresponsible. 

The state capital budget is meant to fund exactly what it sounds like: capital projects, mainly infrastructure and assets, such as public buildings, bridges, and roads. It is assumed that the capital budget pays for necessary projects that will benefit the entire state, not community projects that are more appropriately funded through local government or private support.

Yet this year, Alaska policymakers appropriated at least $16 million to pay for projects outside the scope of state government. While many of them are admirable programs, they are not state priorities, and the appropriated money would be better used elsewhere, including savings.

Distribution of capital project funds by House district — which legislators slid in pet projects for their districts — is available through Alaska’s Legislative Finance Division. The list includes handouts such as $2.5 million for facilities at the private Alaska SeaLife Center; $7.3 million for the private Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository; $6.3 million for creation of a new private Chugach Region Archaeological Museum; $87,000 to replace a scoreboard for the private Seawolf Hockey Alliance; and $588,775 to the private Dimond Alumni Foundation to replace diving boards. 

Many Alaskans (and visitors to the state) benefit from sports teams and museums. However, these should be financially supported by beneficiaries, not by the state’s pocketbook, which is not bottomless.

For contrast, two appropriations that will benefit the vast majority of Alaskans were $175 million for the Port of Nome and $200 million for the Port of Alaska. While the Port of Alaska is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, it handles goods bought by 90% of Alaskans. Projects enabling the Port of Nome to expand its capacity, meanwhile, are broadly beneficial because Alaskans are currently so reliant on the Port of Alaska. Creating capacity through multiple ports not only increases the available flow of goods, but also protects against unexpected problems at one or the other. 

The governor vetoed some capital projects that clearly did not belong in the state’s budget, such as $300,000 for the construction of a private “Equity Center.” The requestor was a community-based advocacy group, meaning it should be financially supported by its community, not the government. State government should not be paying for non-state-owned buildings regardless of the cause for which they are used. It is unfortunate that more pet projects were not eliminated on similar grounds.

Overall, state funds appropriated for the capital budget add up to more than $935 million. This is the largest share of state funds in the capital budget Alaska policymakers have enacted since 2014, and the federal government added another $2 billion. While many projects required state matches to claim the federal funds, the vast wave of cash allowed policymakers to sneak in their favored projects and increase the capital budget total. 

Millions of dollars are being spent to fund localized community projects that should instead be funded by local support and private sources. Alaskans deserve responsibility and transparency, not waste and opacity.

Bethany Marcum is CEO of Alaska Policy Forum.

17 COMMENTS

  1. $16 million is less than .02% of the Capital budget. Many $millions more are being spent on the West Susitna and Ambler Access Road Study “pet projects”

  2. The only pet project I want is a full statutory PFD with 100% back pay. Cancel all projects and all government spending until we get that done.

      • How do you figure he doesn’t deserve money legally owned to him? Money denied by very questionable means.

        Just because you seem to not like the PFD does not mean it’s not a legal contract between us and the state.

        Curious how you worked this out.

  3. I’ll be willing to bet that that’s only the tip of the iceberg of pet projects. Like asking for covid funds to fund an acting group to put on a play.

  4. This shouldn’t disturb the point being made here, but the Alaska Sea Life Center and the Alutiiq and Chugach Museum projects are not State projects, those are Exxon Valdez Trustee Council projects that pass thru the capital budget. Exxon is paying for them, not the State.

  5. How about State Troopers in the MatSu Borough ? Seems like one of the richest areas should be paying for their own law enforcement. Small government at the local level means pay for your own law enforcement. How many Troopers are in the MatSu ? What percentage of the total force ?

  6. Alaska and Alaskans are a burden to the rest of the United States. I think the last few years it has been 3 billion a year in federal aid. We suck up more government welfare than any state in the country. People look at us like we are leeches.. Which we are. We can’t pay our own way. We like to say we are hard working, self reliant and have no need for government interference. But we would starve to death overnight without handouts from the lower 48.

    • Nationwide the federal government owns about 620 million acres of land, about 223 million (roughly 36% of all federal land holdings) of those acres are in Alaska. About 61% of the lands in Alaska are own by the federal government. Alaska as a state has the third highest active duty military representation per capita. Alaska has the highest percentage Native Americans per capita.

      If the federal government were to hand over the land holdings that they should have as per the statehood compact, if they were to drop the level of active military, and if they were to stop spending on 8a no bid race based government contracts then spending levels would drop precipitously.

    • We’re paying their taxes, why not get some of it back and get some return for all the taxes we pay the FEDS.
      The government welfare definitely needs to be cut..People are refusing to work because they like to suck the federal money. Somewhere it has to stop. The people that are “stoned” and they cannot work due to their “pleasure”, needs to be stopped.

  7. State budgetary motto: “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you!” apologies to Chilkoot Charlie’s. Wait a minute, we are the other guy until they pay for the full PFD based on the Permanent Fund’s five year rolling average of earnings (mainly the stock market & not on the price of a barrel of oil) in the prior years divided by the number of eligible applicants for the current year.

  8. Look here: $9,400,000. This is an example of how the State of Alaska funds labor unions over its citizens. The Laborers International Union of North America Local 341, a private labor union, received a new training facility courtesy of the Alaska state legislature. From fiscal year 2012 through 2014, the State of Alaska appropriated over $9 million for the new building, located in Chugiak.

    • AND what are the the LABORERS training for? Their job should consist of shovels, wheelbarrows, brooms & flagging tools.
      ALL other training Laborers receive is to steal work from their (supposed) BROTHERS in the Carpenters & Iron Workers union. They are anti union imo & have greased politicians in order to steal work from apprenticed trained craftsmen. Disgusting.

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