Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Young: Harbor funds rest on earmarking


March 31, 2011

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, will attempt to segregate Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands into a separate category for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding to ensure money for projects here.

Young aide Chad Padgett said the change would have to come during reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill, which is currently being negotiated.

In remarks to the Haines Chamber of Commerce last week, Young characterized the possibility of the Corps spending $10 million or more on the Haines harbor as a long shot, unless current prohibitions on Congressional earmarks are dropped.

Instead, Corps funding will go to places like Miami and New York City, Young said, with some possibly going to larger Alaska cities.

"If they do what they want on the WRDA bill, put the money in one lump sum to be distributed by the president, (harbor funding) ain’t going to happen, ladies and gentlemen. You’re not even a flea on a dog’s tail," Young said.

"Earmarking," a practice by which legislators direct funds to specific projects in their districts, came under fire by voters when earmarks for projects like Ketchikan’s $400 million Gravina Island bridge became known.

Young and former Sen. Ted Stevens created the earmark for the project dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere," which was later stripped out of the bill.

Young told the chamber that earmarks were "what Congress is about," and that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority for spending decisions like earmarks, an opinion that’s shared by some influential Democrats.

Critics say the practice leads to pork-barrel spending by allowing influential leaders like committee chairmen to slip earmarks into legislation late in the process, without approval of the rest of the body, or to use them as chits in exchange for votes for other bills.

President Barack Obama in January said he would veto bills containing earmarks.

Young was formerly chair of the powerful House Transportation Committee, a position he no longer holds. He told the chamber that without earmarks, spending decisions will be made by "proxies" instead of by elected leaders.

"If you hear anybody knocking earmarks, you’re not going to get your harbor. It’s that simple," Young said.

During his afternoon visit, Young toured potential federal funding sites around town including Picture Point, the small boat harbor and Lutak Dock. Borough manager Mark Earnest said he also emphasized to Young the importance of federal payments in lieu of taxes and secure schools funding.