What’s in the $1.7 trillion government spending bill for Alaska? Lots.
WASHINGTON — Congress passed a $1.7 trillion spending package to fund the government through September 2023.
The omnibus bill funds all corners of the federal government, with $773 billion for domestic spending, $858 billion for military spending and nearly $45 billion for Ukraine assistance. Congress passed the bill on Dec. 23 in the nick of time, averting a looming shutdown that would have started after government funding expired Friday.
The bill also includes millions in appropriations for projects specific to Alaska and enacts legislation that will directly impact the state. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, supported the bill, saying in a statement that “there is literally no part of our state that this legislation doesn’t benefit.”
Murkowski was one of 14 Senate Republicans to vote for the bill, though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — the frontrunner to be next term’s House speaker — threatened to block their bills if they voted for the package’s passage.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan opposed the 4,155-page bill, which was first released late the evening of Dec. 20. Sullivan acknowledged that the bill includes Alaska-related provisions he supports, but said a “broken budget process” and the roughly 48 hours between the bill’s introduction and the final Senate passage contributed to his no vote.
Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola voted to pass the bill Dec. 23, alongside most other House Democrats. Over 200 of Peltola’s House colleagues voted via proxy, presumably to make it home in time for the holidays amid winter storms across the country, but Peltola voted in person.
Here’s some of what the spending package includes for Alaska:
$500 million in earmarks
About 130 Murkowski-requested, congressionally directed spending allocations — also called earmarks — made it in to the spending bill, totaling close to $500 million. Nonprofit and government projects across the state will receive funding. Some big-ticket items include $99 million to fund a fitness center annex at Fort Wainwright; $63 million for an aircraft maintenance hangar at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson; and $33.9 million for abandoned well remediation in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The Municipality of Anchorage is also receiving millions for various city projects, related to wastewater, fire prevention, police vehicle replacements and more.
Murkowski noted in a statement that she “was the only member of Alaska’s congressional delegation to pursue Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) projects.” Rep. Don Young died weeks before earmark requests were due, and Peltola was elected after the deadline. Sullivan’s office has said he pursues other methods to secure federal spending for Alaska.
Fishery disaster assistance
The bill includes $300 million for federal fishery disaster assistance, funding that the Alaska congressional delegation said the state’s fisheries, like the Bering Sea king and snow crab fisheries, sorely need. The U.S. Department of Commerce declared a slate of fishery disasters in Alaska last week, making them eligible for the assistance, though the timeline to get that funding to Alaska’s fisheries is unclear.
Alaska Salmon Research Task Force
A Sullivan-led measure to study Pacific salmon is laid out in the omnibus bill. The Alaska Salmon Research Task Force will be a 13- to 19-member body that reviews and reports on research about salmon in the state, with the goal of supporting sustainable salmon runs.
“In recent years, Alaskans have witnessed shocking and unprecedented declines among some salmon species in parts of the state while, in other parts, runs have been strong and historic,” Sullivan said of the measure in a statement. “Many have speculated on the causes of these declines, but all Alaskans can agree — we need to identify and address research prioritization gaps with comprehensive data and the best scientific minds, including Indigenous communities that have harvested salmon for millennia.”
Denali Park Road
The bill provides funding to repair the road that heads into Denali National Park and Preserve. A long stretch of the road has been closed due to a slow-moving landslide in the Polychrome Pass area, which has impeded access to parts of the park. A previous round of federal funding allowed construction to begin on a bridge over the area.
“The No. 1 place that people want to go and see is Denali Park, and so we need to place a priority on making sure that that road is open, but that it’s safe, and so that’s what these funds help do,” Murkowski said.
Land contamination grants
For the first time, the package allocates $20 million for grants for the assessment and remediation of contaminated lands conveyed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The spending bill provides funding for the Interior Department to do a feasibility study on the Alaska Long Trail, a proposed 500-mile route from Fairbanks to Seward, to determine if it could be a National Scenic Trail. The bill also designates the Chilkoot Trail, a 16-mile long Tlingit trade route later used during the gold rush in Southeast Alaska, as a National Historic Trail.
Alaska Native mental health
The package allocates $80 million to the Indian Health Service for prevention, recovery and treatment programs dedicated to mental health and substance abuse. With this provision, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services can direct any amount of money to Alaska Native tribal health organizations.
Notably absent: Icebreaker appropriations
Other Alaska delegation initiatives
The bill also includes a series of nationally oriented provisions championed by the Alaska congressional delegation that address veterans benefits, infrastructure development, public safety and more.
The Electoral Count Reform Act, co-sponsored by Murkowski, clarifies that the vice president does not have the power to solely determine disputes over electors. In an effort to prevent objections to the electoral count like those that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, the measure also requires 20% of the Senate or House of Representatives to lodge an objection to electors.
The Visit America Act, sponsored by Sullivan, creates an assistant secretary of tourism in the Commerce Department to boost the country’s tourism industry.
The bill provides funding for an Arctic Ambassador, a priority for Murkowski.
The bill appropriates $6.5 million to support municipal recycling programs and local waste management systems for marine plastic waste, a priority of Peltola’s.
The Murkowski-sponsored Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, was also added to the omnibus bill Thursday during the amendment process. The measure mandates that employers provide hourly and salaried employees space and time to pump and store breast milk at work.