By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
Anchorage Daily News
August 12, 2005
The elder Sen. Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, inserted a provision into the recently approved transportation bill that says in Alaska and Hawaii, legislators may serve on the transportation boards that manage the federal highway money - including AMATS in Anchorage and FMATS in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The five-member AMATS Policy Committee currently includes no legislators. It consists of two state administrators, the mayor and two Anchorage Assembly members - giving the balance of power to local government. The committee decides which roads, trails and air quality projects are to be funded with federal money.
Ben Stevens, president of the state Senate, sponsored a state law that would add two nonvoting state legislators and two citizens to the five-member body, diluting the influence of local government representatives. It hasn't gone into effect because the city sued to block it.
Sen. Ted Stevens added a provision to federal law after talking to his son and some Hawaiian legislators, said his spokeswoman, Courtney Boone.
Legislators are members of Hawaii transportation committees.
"Sen. Stevens was concerned if the lawsuit succeeded here, it would put into question the Hawaiians' capacity to have legislators serve" on the committees, said Boone. "So he wanted to codify the two statutes, one in Alaska and one in Hawaii."
Some transportation policy committees in other states also include legislators.
Sen. Stevens crafted the provision to only apply to Alaska and Hawaii because "We knew it was an issue in Alaska and Hawaii," Boone said.
How, or if, the federal language will make a difference is unclear.
Anchorage city attorney Fred Boness said he doesn't think the federal law will affect the city's legal case. The city contends that because AMATS is formed under a joint state-local agreement, the state can't reorganize the committee unless the city agrees.
"If this is an attempt by Ben Stevens to somehow validate what he's done to date, he's failed," Boness said.
Sen. Ben Stevens has not been available for comment this week, according to a staff member. In an interview earlier this year, the younger Stevens said adding nonvoting legislators to AMATS would not shift the balance of power but would improve public involvement.
"It doesn't give any real power to the legislators," he said. "It's to get us to have a better understanding so we can promote and defend the Anchorage program."
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