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Originally published Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Alaska governor to request fewer earmarks

Gov. Sarah Palin's administration plans to ask Alaska's congressional delegation for far fewer earmarks in the coming year. Officials cited a need...

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sarah Palin's administration plans to ask Alaska's congressional delegation for far fewer earmarks in the coming year.

Officials cited a need to improve the state's credibility.

"We really want to skinny it down," said Karen Rehfeld, Palin's budget chief.

Rehfeld recently wrote a memo to state commissioners telling them that to "enhance the state's credibility," federal earmark requests for funding should be only for the most compelling needs.

The state must be sensitive to a national perception that Alaska has a lot of money and shouldn't always be asking for so much from the federal treasury, Rehfeld said.

Members of Congress place earmarks in national spending bills to direct money to specific programs and projects. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has used the process to direct billions of dollars to Alaska.

Earmarks are increasingly criticized, and there are demands in Congress to cut back on them. Alaska — with the highest per-capita federal spending in the nation — has sometimes been singled out.

Stevens is concerned that too many Alaska projects are funded only through federal dollars, said his spokesman, Aaron Saunders. It's easier to find congressional support if the state is also putting money in, according to Saunders.

"The senator is obviously encouraged the state has heard his message," Saunders said. "The state needs to step up and become more of a partner."

Saunders said the anti-earmarking is affecting states across the board and that Alaska has not been singled out.

The defense-spending bill that Stevens helped through the Senate this year includes more than $183 million in earmarked projects for Alaska. Most of the spending goes for projects on the state's military bases.

Stevens has secured about $502 million in earmarks overall for fiscal 2008, which ranks him second in Congress for earmarked projects, the Washington, D.C., budget-watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense said in a recent analysis.

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Most of the appropriations bills still are pending in Congress, and Rehfeld said she's watching what happens with earmarks.

Rehfeld said she believes the state government annually made more than 100 earmark requests of the congressional delegation in previous years. She said the request for this year, the first under Palin, was for more than 50 earmarks.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Alicia Mundy is included in this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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