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Can Alaska curb its appetite for blue-state pork, including California's?

August 30, 2010 | 11:29 am

It’s always been a political curiosity that red states – the ones that vote Republican and tend to complain more about taxes – generally get the biggest checks from the federal government, far more than what they contribute in taxes, while the blue states – the ones that tend to vote Democratic – get back less in federal perks, projects and programs than the tax dollars they send to D.C.

In other words, red state voters, in the main, depend on blue state voters to keep them afloat when it comes to federal money. Pretty embarrassing, I'd say, for those red-staters who like to complain about federal taxes and federal government. 

This imbalance in the balance sheets constitutes the down-to-dollars facts that underlie part of the story of the expanding American frontier, that people did it all by themselves. Without question it takes  tough types of people to gut it out and cut it in the desert and the mountains and the plains – but the huge amounts of federal money that went into massive water and reclamation projects, soil and agriculture projects, bridges and highways, built the framework and underpinnings that helped to make the settlement and growth possible.

In the latest numbers I could find, from a few years ago, and consistent with patterns of years standing, California gets only 78 cents in services back from every buck it sends to Washington. Uber-blue and super-prosperous Connecticut gets 69 cents; New Jersey, 61 cents. The states often described as rugged and independent, such as Montana and Idaho, get $1.47 and $1.20, respectively, for every $1 of their federal tax money. Oklahoma and North Dakota were tied at $1.68 – you get the idea.

And now we get to Alaska, at $1.84 in benefits for every D.C. tax dollar it sends in. Alaska’s mainly Republican congressional delegation has been regarded as the champ at hauling pork back up Yukon-ward.

Which is why it’s astonishing that, as The Times has reported, Joe Miller, who may topple incumbent Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Republican Senate primary, is saying "stop the pork." In the interest of addressing the deficit, he told CBS, "I think the answer to this is to basically transfer the responsibilities and power of government back to the states and the people.’’

Well, Mr. Possible Senate Candidate, the people already have the responsibilities and the power; it’s all there in the Constitution. They vote – and directly, now, for Senate candidates, instead of through electors, thanks to an amendment to that same Constitution.

If this is about keeping in each state the tax dollars that now go to D.C. and get redistributed, often blue-state-to-red, the question becomes, how would ''beneficiary'' states like Alaska make up the difference?

California governors, both Republican and Democratic and including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been hammering this point for decades: California would love to get even $1 back for every dollar it sends to Washington. But then how would states such as Oklahoma and North Dakota and Alaska manage on a dollar-for-dollar budget if they were not to get that extra federal boost – in some cases of 150% or 180% more than they pay in – that comes from ‘’donor’’ states such as California and Connecticut?

Miller is being laudably consistent with his political policies and priorities when he says this; the question is, will his fellow Alaskans, who have benefited from and even been proud of the big take-home checks from Washington, be able to live on the budget Miller suggests?

-- Patt Morrison


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