Fate of Denali Commission Funds Still Unknown

Photo and Story by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Staff at Alaska’s Denali commission are waiting to hear whether or not they will need to return $15 million of their funding. Congress rescinded the money when the federal budget deal was passed in April.  At this point it’s still not clear if the full $15 million will need to go back. Joel Neimeyer is the federal co chair of the commission. He says in 27 years as a federal employee, he’s never seen anything like this.

Neimeyer says projects that could be impacted are waterfront upgrades. He says it may mean they will have to wait until next year rather than starting this summer.

The Denali Commission started with $20 million in base funding more than a dozen years ago and zoomed up to $140 million a few years later. President Obama has steadfastly entered $12 million for the commission’s base funding but congress knocked it back to about $10.7 million.

Because the commission gets other funding to leverage, they currently average around $40 million annually to help rural infrastructure projects.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says, it’s difficult to know what will happen with so much fiscal uncertainty in congress, but she’s heard Alaskan’s concern.

Joel Neimeyer says a congressional budget study recommended terminating the Denali Commission and the other two rural development commissions that serve the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia.  So Denali isn’t being singled out, but it’s tougher work for Alaska’s senators to protect the Denali Commission because the others have multiple Congress members to argue for their commission’s work, but Alaska has only three. He says the other two commissions have not had funds rescinded. He says he believes the Denali commission will survive but he says as funding diminishes, it is important to define how the commission can continue its work of improving living conditions for rural Alaska communities.

Neimeyer says regardless of what congress decides about whether the $15 million will have to be returned, he thinks the impacts will not be felt this year. For 2011, he says there is $180 million  in collaborative funds that will start or complete projects across the state. He says prioritizing sustainability, protecting the billions in state and federal investment in rural infrastructure will be increasingly important.

Photo: Joel Neimeyer, the federal co-chair of the Denali Commission, speaks about the uncertainty facing the Commission’s federal funding.

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