By KEVIN DIAZ
March 07, 2007
Critics of congressional "earmark" spending took aim Wednesday at a $4 million expenditure for the proposed Northern Line Extension, an Alaskan railway that will link the village of North Pole (pop. 1,778) to the village of Delta Junction (pop.840).
Citizens Against Government Waste, an "anti-pork" watchdog group backed by Arizona Sen. John McCain - a Republican presidential contender - highlighted the project in their 2007 "Pig Book," a compilation of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget.
The 80-mile rail extension takes its place among 2,658 projects worth $13.2 billion that the nonprofit group questions in the defense and homeland security spending bills passed by Congress for this year.
The railroad money, intended for preliminary engineering and environmental study, is just a fraction of the $209 million that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, helped steer into the state last year as Appropriations Committee chairman.
"He's proved once again that he's one of the alpha porkers in Congress," said David Williamson, vice president of the anti-pork group.
Stevens' spokesman Aaron Saunders defended the Alaska spending, arguing that the group's claims are misguided.
"They define as pork anything that's not in the (Bush) administration's budget request," Saunders said. "Well, the administration is not the only one that understands the needs of the nation."
The Northern Rail Extension is a planned freight and passenger rail service intended to support industry and military installations around Fairbanks. The $4 million Defense Department appropriation represents a small downpayment on a project estimated to cost between $450 and $800 million, according to the state-owned Alaska Railroad Corporation.
"It's far from pork," said North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson. "People who want to keep us in a territorial status call anything we do pork."
Kevin Sweeney, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the rail project would help support a national missile defense system at Fort Greely and could also provide needed infrastructure for construction of a natural gas pipeline. "To call this wasteful shows a clear lack of knowledge of Alaska's critical role in meeting our Nation's defense and energy needs," he said.
Congress has enacted only two of 11 appropriations bills for fiscal 2007. The remaining nine are subject to a moratorium on earmarks - generally congressionally mandated spending that serves local or special interests.
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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