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Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington
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Winter 2000

Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington

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EVEN WHEN Stevens isn't sporting his Taz tie, his reputation for an explosive temper and an in-your-face negotiating style usually gets him his way. "I'm an old prosecutor," he is fond of saying. "I know how to use my temper, not lose my temper."

Recently when the appropriations committee was negotiating an increase in conservation funding, Stevens strolled into the room just as a deal was about to be struck, demanding that another half-billion dollars be added to provide assistance to coastal states like, say, Alaska. Staffers inside the room described Stevens' 11th-hour demand as being like a time bomb going off.

He didn't get his way that time; the negotiators added in only $400 million, then quickly signed the deal.

In the four years that Stevens has been chairman of appropriations, the flow of money to Alaska has been so pervasive in the state's economy that economists have coined a phrase for it: the "Stevens effect."

"Whenever there is a gathering of economists, the Stevens effect typically is talked about, and everyone smiles," says state labor economist Neal Fried. "It's a well-known economic fact."

When the Census Bureau published its annual report on per-capita spending this spring, Stevens' influence was evident. In one year, the federal cash flow to Alaska shot up 10 percent, making it No. 1 in the nation, reclaiming a position it lost five years earlier when military base closings and realignments cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. While military spending continued to decline last year, federal construction soared.

Stevens' staff estimates that through the senator's direct intervention, federal spending in Alaska now approximates the state's annual budget of nearly $1.5 billion. For the most part, the money is not going for huge projects and buildings that will be monuments to his legacy; it is going for basic infrastructure needs for a young state still trying to find its perch on the 21st-century economy.

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