Alaska congressional delegation details benefits of federal infrastructure law to state lawmakers

Members of the Alaska House Labor and Commerce Committee listen to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speak via teleconference. Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all Republicans, spoke about the new federal infrastructure law. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)
Members of the House Labor and Commerce Committee listen to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speak via teleconference on Friday in the Alaska State Capitol. Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all Republicans, spoke about the new federal infrastructure law. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s congressional delegation told state lawmakers that the state has a unique opportunity to take advantage of the recently passed federal infrastructure law

Rep. Don Young defended the law against Republican critics. He said it will send Alaska $6,000 per resident for transportation infrastructure, the most of any state. 

“Some people within the state don’t think this is a good deal: Try something without it,” he said. “I keep telling people, just keep in mind, I had people tell me: ‘Well, we could do better, when we’re in control.’ Well, that’s nonsense!”

Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who are all Republicans, testified by videoconference before the House Labor and Commerce Committee. 

Young said that if Congress hadn’t passed the law, it would have taken years for Republicans to pass their own infrastructure bill. 

“It is the difference between doing something positive or talking about it,” he said. 

Young proposed that legislators work with the delegation in a joint oversight committee to ensure that Alaska projects are funded and built in a timely manner.  

Murkowski said it was unique for the delegation to speak to a state legislative committee,  and it showed how unprecedented the law is. 

She was part of a small bipartisan group of senators who spent last year working on the bill. She said it included benefits for each state, including the Alaska Marine Highway System. 

“What we were trying to do was knit together an infrastructure bill that was going to be good for all of America, including those of us in the Far North,” she said. 

Murkowski said the delegation and the state government must seize the opportunity provided by the bill. 

“It’s a measure that I am extraordinarily proud of and I hope that as you peel this back, you begin to see exactly how these initiatives will stand to benefit all across our state,” she said. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan said he opposed pieces of the bill but said it would help Alaska. He also said it was similar to a bill former President Donald Trump’s administration supported.

He said the state will receive 34% more money for its highways than in the last federal highway bill. 

And Sullivan said the estimated $1.5 billion in broadband funding for Alaska is significant.

“We get some of the biggest amounts of federal funding for broadband of any state in the country – not per capita, straight-up broadband funding,” he said. 

He also praised funding for military construction, the port of Nome, coastal storm damage reduction for Utqiagvik, and the Lowell Creek flood diversion project in Seward. 

He also praised the bill for including changes to federal permitting that were in a Trump executive order later rescinded by President Joe Biden.

And Sullivan pushed back against those who say the bill was similar to the Green New Deal proposed by some Democrats. He contrasted the law with another bill that he said did have parts of the Green New Deal. 

“The passage of this hard infrastructure bill actually helped very much in the Senate in killing the so-called Build Back Better bill,” which the delegation opposed, he said. 

The state government is making plans for the funding. 

Miles Baker is focused on it as the infrastructure investment coordinator in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office. He noted that the feds will award much of the money by competitive grant and that a large amount will not come through the state. Local governments, tribes, nonprofits and utilities also are eligible for money. 

“So there’s huge coordination needed,” he said. 

Baker said the administration’s immediate priority is determining what spending can be proposed during the legislative session, which must end by May 18. But the state’s eligibility for other funding won’t be clear until after the session. The bill covers a five-year time period.  

Committee members expressed an interest in working with the congressional delegation on the funding.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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