Denali Commission Money Survives House

Fiscal conservatives are again gunning for the Denali Commission. This week they tried to eliminate the bulk of its funding — $10 million, tucked into a federal appropriations bill for energy and water programs. Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot argued, as others have for years, the Denali Commission is an unnecessary middle man.

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“American taxpayers would be better served if federal funds were distributed directly to the State of Alaska or to Alaskan communities,” Chabot said on the House floor. He has a separate bill to kill the Denali Commission altogether, which is officially called the “Eliminate the Commission to Nowhere Act.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young, though, argues the Denali Commission provides more direct service because it cuts government agencies out of the picture.

“It’s money well spent,” Young said, arguing against Chabot’s amendment. “If we don’t spend it on this type thing to cut out the middleman — they keep saying there’s other agencies. This is not true! Those agencies do not function!”

The Commission is a relic of Alaska’s big money days. Sen. Ted Stevens created it in 1998 to spur rural development, modeling it after the poverty-busting Appalachian Regional Commission. But that commission coordinates projects across 13 states. The Denali Commission serves only Alaska. A slew of auditors and watchdogs have claimed it does administrative work the state could do for itself. Oklahoma Congressman James Lankford picked up those arguments this week.

“We as a nation have to find ways to be able to eliminate duplication and this is one of those moments,” he said. “Are we going to listen to the inspector general, the Congressional Budget Office, the GAO, two different presidents’ Office of Management and Budget, or will we ignore all of those?”

Young reminded his colleagues that dozens of Alaska villages lack running water and other infrastructure their constituents take for granted. He says the Denali Commission is doing its job.

“It’s time we accept the fact that this system works as the other commissions do, for those communities that are less fortunate than those communities that most people live (in) in this body,” Young said.

The amendment to cut $10 million from the Denali Commission failed, 243-176. Young was one of 69 Republicans who joined most of the Democrats in voting no. The Denali Commission these days focuses mostly on bulk fuel storage and other energy projects.

It expects a total budget of $14 million next year, of which $2.3 million is compensation for its 10 full-time employees.  At its peak in 2006, the commission’s budget was $140 million.