Local Officials Again Reject Alaskans' Earmarks
It was a long, hot summer for Alaska's two senior members of Congress -- Sen. Ted Stevens (R) and Rep. Don Young (R -- as both came under scrutiny in a burgeoning corruption investigation in their home state. And now even their earmarking power is losing some of its pop.
For the second time in a week, local officials have rejected multi-million-dollar earmarks that came courtesy of Stevens and Young, both of whom are senior members of powerful committees.
The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees growth projects around the Naples, Fla., region, voted 6-5 this morning to reject a $10 million earmark for a proposed new interchange off of I-75. It's actually the third time this year that the county organization refused the money, but today's vote was needed because past votes occurred after procedural mishaps that violated internal rules. So today's vote is the official action refusing the earmark, which was written into the 2005 federal highway bill that Young authored when he chaired the House Transportation Committee.
The county MPO hopes to spend the $10 million instead on widening I-75, which local officials consider a top highway priority to make hurricane evacuations easier. Officials have accused Young of pushing the earmark because of a fundraiser thrown for the lawmaker by developers in Naples. Those developers own land next to the proposed new interchange, which would likely increase the value of any new homes built next to a new interchange.
The Naples move follows an announcement last Friday from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) that the state would not build a bridge to connect remote Ketchikan, an island with just 50 residents, to another more populated area of the state. Young and Stevens, the longest serving GOP senator in history, originally secured more than $200 million in the 2005 highway bill for the bridge. Opponents labeled it the "Bridge to Nowhere" and successfully stripped language directing the money to the bridge project. But the state wound up with $200 million to spend how it saw fit.
It's a sign of their declining power that local and state officials would defy Stevens and Young on these projects.
Two years ago, when Stevens and Young were at their apex of power, the conventional wisdom was that Alaska would spend the $200 million on the bridge. Now Palin, who has not been entangled in any of the corruption investigations, has deemed the bridge project fiscally irresponsible.
When Lee County, Fla., planners originally questioned the $10 million interchange earmark, Young's office said the county had to spend the money on the interchange or else lose federal funding on future projects. But local officials hired a consultant to investigate the earmark, learning that originally the highway bill did not specify a new interchange. After it passed both the House and Senate, but before it was sent to the White House, someone changed the language of the earmark to specifically read "interchange." Florida's congressional delegation is now working on legislative language to allow Lee County to spend the money on widening I-75.
Young and Stevens have generally declined to comment on the spiraling investigations into alleged corruption back home in Alaska. They're both under fire for their links to VECO, the energy services company whose ex-CEO has pleaded guilty to bribing members of the state legislature, including Ben Stevens, the son of Ted Stevens and a former state senator.
The ex-CEO of VECO, Bill Allen, testified in a related trial of a state lawmaker this month that he personally oversaw the massive renovation of Ted Stevens's home outside Anchorage, using his own employees to perform the work. Another VECO executive who pleaded guilty to bribery said that part of his job was to arrange fundraising events for Young.
September 28, 2007; 6:10 PM ET
Categories: Ethics and Rules , Purse Strings
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