Alaska projects in $1.7 trillion bill have Murkowski beaming; Sullivan votes no

Lisa Murkowski, smiling, sits in a chair wearing a blue, puffy jacket
Before leaving the Capitol for the year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski outlined the Alaska priorities in the spending bill the Senate passed. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Senate passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday that had Sen. Lisa Murkowski brimming with happiness. She didn’t know where to start.

“There’s so much in this crazy omnibus,” she said shortly after the vote.

She was already wearing her coat. The spending bill is the last thing Congress passes before she and other lawmakers head for the airports to spend Christmas back home.

Her communications director was toting a thick sheaf of papers. They document Murkowski’s earmarks — or, as they’re known in Congress now, “congressionally directed spending allocations.”

“You’re going to get more text than a radio person really ever asks for,” Murkowski said, grinning broadly.

The legislation has more than 130 of her priorities, totaling nearly $500 million, all over the state. One of the smallest items: $100,000 for medical equipment in Bethel. The largest is $99 million for a fitness and training center at Fort Wainwright. Murkowski said it was the Army’s No. 1 unfunded priority. And Alaska service members are also going to have more spending money.

“The pay increase for our military, that’s going to be very appreciated. I can guarantee that,” she said. “Some of the military construction dollars are going to be significant.”

Murkowski’s earmarks were on a list she submitted months ago to the Appropriations Committee, of which she’s a senior member.

Outside of that list — but something she advocated for that’s in the bill – is $300 million to help people recover from fisheries disasters. Murkowski said it was the talk of every community she visited this year.

“Whether it’s the crash on the Yukon or the Kuskokwim, or what’s happening in the in the crab sector, just a level of desperation” has set in, she said. “And so to know that we’ve made some good headway here when it comes to to the fisheries disasters funding — I think that’s going to be important.”

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was one of 29 Republican senators who voted no on the spending bill. He chooses not to make earmark requests, and his office did not respond to an interview request. In a statement, Sullivan said he likes much of the omnibus bill, which has several programs he worked on. But he said the process was opaque. The bill was negotiated between House and Senate leadership, and he had only 48 hours to read its 4,000 pages.

Sullivan also objects to the removal of one of his top priorities — the purchase of the Aiviq, a small icebreaker that was to be homeported in Juneau and serve until new Coast Guard icebreakers are built.

Murkowski said she, too, was disappointed that $150 million in icebreaker funding was removed at the last minute, behind closed doors. She said the money appears to have been diverted to fund security measures on the southern border.

“Because as we saw the diminishment of the funding over on the icebreaker side, we saw the plus-up on the border funding,” she said.

Since it’s the last train leaving the station, the omnibus spending bill also includes a host of other priorities beyond appropriations. Among them: a rewrite of the Electoral Count Act, to make it clear the vice president’s role in certifying the presidential election is ceremonial; the Pregnant Women’s Fairness Act; and a measure that guarantees workers the time and a clean place to express milk for their newborns.

The House is likely to pass the bill shortly, sending it to the president.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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