Alaska air travel, farm subsidies survive Senate appropriations bill

The Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 2, 2011 

Subsidies for rural Alaska air travel and farmers in the 49th state survived in the $182 billion spending bill the U.S. Senate passed on Tuesday.

It's the first appropriations measure to pass the Senate since the debt limit deal enacted in August under which lawmakers have to cut. Tea party Republicans argued that reductions in discretionary spending in the bill did not go nearly far enough. But challenges to programs including rural air subsidies and the Rural Development Agency failed.

The bill, which passed the Senate 69 to 30, provides funding for agriculture, transportation, housing, commerce, justice and science departments. Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski both voted for it. The vote sets up negotiations with the Republican-controlled House, where there has been more appetite for cuts.

Murkowski and Begich sent out statements Tuesday, with Begich saying that "even as we continue to focus on reducing the debt and the deficit, we must look out for Alaska's critical needs." Murkowski struck a similar theme, with a statement saying that "many Alaskan imperatives have been addressed through the appropriations process."

Both Murkowski and Begich pointed to money for rural air service. The "Essential Air Service" program received a $13 million boost, for a total of $143 million. A portion of that money has gone to subsidize flights into 44 Alaska communities airlines say could be too expensive to serve otherwise, from Yakutat in Southeast to Atka in the Aleutians.

Begich's office also noted that the bill includes $2 million to be shared among "geographically disadvantaged farmers and ranchers" in Alaska and Hawaii. The payments are part of a program to reimburse farmers and ranchers for a portion of the cost of transporting what they produce or for bringing in the materials that they use.

The bill also includes $500,000 for the creation of a "National Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault of American Indians and Alaska Native Women." It's a U.S. Department of Justice project for tribes to get free training in responding to sexual assaults.

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