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

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


Comments () | Archives (7)

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Brandon Snodgrass

What most of you don't seem to understand is how much Federal land there is in Alaska. It takes a lot of Federal money to pay to maintain all of the National Parks, Reserves, Forests, and Monuments. There is also the fact that Alaska is the first line of defense if we are attacked from Asia, and we have a lot of military outposts here for that reason.

We are not on the Interstate Highway system. We build and maintain our own roads. Most of the state is inaccesible by road, including our state capitol.

Also, I would be willing to bet that your state received more than its fair share of tax dollars when its infrastructure was being developed.

By the way, those other states you mentioned have some similarities with Alaska. They all have a proportionally large amount of federal land, and one other thing that you seem to forget. A large population of Native Americans. Do you not feel that we owe them for what we have taken from them? We do in Alaska. That is why most of the federal money we get goes to improving life in the remote villages of the state.

I, for one, am tired of you so-called "intellectual elite" who know nothing of what you speak and throw around talking points as if they were fact. Take a little time to research what you write about and gain a little basic understanding and maybe you won't come off sounding like a complete fool.


And I, for one, am tired of the so-called "real Americans" who constantly extol their alleged self-reliance and small government credos, sneering and mocking those of us who live in the productive blue states while suckling off our tax teat to fund their bloated state budgets while we are left without enough money to tend to our own very real needs - needs as great as those allegedly caused by the "federal land" and "native Americans" cited as red staters play their sympathy cards. (And how much "federal land" is in Alabama, or Mississippi, or other tax sponges?) Red staters should practice what they preach. Hey Brandon Snodgrass - maybe Alaskans wouldn't be such a welfare state if its citizens didn't insist on that annual oil rebate - they get it both ways, hoarding revenues for themselves while sucking wealth out of us in the creative, idea-generating, productive regions of the country. We can't let the red states go soon enough.


Brandon Snodgrass, it is not true that Alaska built its own roads. Those were largely paid for by federal transportation dollars just like everywhere else.

Max Plank

Calfornia used to get about $1.08 back under Reagan. Most of that was defense spending until liberal Democrats drove aerospace out of the state. Lockheed left years ago and now the only defense firm left, Northrop, is moving to Virginina.

Mitchell Young

These sorts of comparisons are of limited utility, especially without some breakout of the type of spending. Alaska, for example, gets nearly $2000 per capita more military spending than California -- i.e. more than double Cali's per capita figure. Such spending is usually including in these state to state comparisons, but can we really that it is 'pork' for Alaska? It's more of a common good, the main purpose is not to benefit Alaska but to defend the US -- for example, when Putin rears his head by sending bombers down the West Coast.



Then why not drill for oil in this federal land , Lets get off forigen oil.


Great article. Virginians also tend to be Republican and Virginia directly and indirectly feeds off the Federal Government---Washington D.C., the FBI, and the military are huge employers and clients. Add to that all the state tax dollars that support the the universities and you wonder why Virginians are so anti -tax??? I think people need to be better educated and the media does a really poor job. Send your info to Fox News. Thanks for the article.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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