Cognitive dissonance in Alaska

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN ALASKA…. It’s mildly annoying that Alaska is the beneficiary of extraordinary generosity from the federal government. But what truly rankles is the disconnect between the state’s handouts and its political attitudes.

Backed by a blue row of saw-toothed mountain peaks, the Republican state lawmaker Carl Gatto finds himself on a fine roll.

Roll it back, he says, roll back this entire socialistic experiment in federal hegemony. Give us control of our land, let us drill and mine, and please don’t let a few belugas get in the way of a perfectly good bridge.

“I’ve introduced legislation to roll back the federal government,” he says. “They don’t have solutions; they just have taxes.”

And what of the federal stimulus, from which Alaska receives the most money per capita in the nation? Would he reject it?

Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”

He points to a newly graded and federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. “Man, beautiful, right?”

Well, “beautiful” is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

The Last Frontier enjoys more federal largess than any other state. The Recovery Act delivered $3,145 per capita to Alaska, which wasn’t just the highest in the nation, but was also nearly triple the national average. All told, a third of Alaska’s jobs are supported by federal tax dollars, and the trend is accelerating — in 1996, the NYT noted, Alaska’s share of federal spending was 38% above the national average. Today, it’s 71%.

Putting aside merit, the funds flowing into Alaska would be less annoying if the state’s political culture was more aware of the reality. While the state accepts big federal checks with one hand, it seems to shake its fist at D.C. with the other: “[T]he Republican governor decries ‘intrusive’ Obama administration policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill.”

Indeed, as we’ve talked about before, there’s a bit of a “feature, not a bug” problem here. Alaska abolished both income and sales taxes, which made the state even more dependent on pork-barrel spending from Congress.

Something to consider the next time conservative Alaskan politicians — including you know who — offer lectures about big government, cutting spending, and an intrusive federal reach.