Denali Commission Goes Before Congress

By Lori Townsend

The leaders of regional economic development commissions including Alaska’s Denali commission gave testimony today to a U-S House of Representatives Transportation subcommittee on their proposed 2011 budgets. 

The Denali commission has seen a profound decrease in annual funding. Economic development, public buildings and emergency management subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a congresswoman from DC asked Denali commission co-chair Joel Neimeyer how the commission is able to operate within a budget that has gone from a peak of more than $ 140-million in 2006 to $ 15.9-million for 2011.  Neimeyer said they’re asking members of their 5 advisory councils for advice on how to start winding down their programs and what that means.

The way that I look at it is the Federal Government invested almost a Billion dollars over the course of twelve years for the Commission to develop very significant relationships with a number of partners.   So I think the commission continues to add value based upon those relationships that have been built.

He said other agencies and organizations that the Denali commission has teamed up with are stepping forward to keep programs going.

Chairwoman Holmes Norton said the committee will monitor how the commission’s work proceeds.

We will be watching the Denali Commission very closely given the strain that that obviously has put on you,  to see most commissions used to rising a little bit at a time – and not at this kind of take down of money especially where that money is so necessary.

Neimeyer also said the 2011 budget has a cost share match which is the first time that requirement has been seen, but Neimeyer says he supports it.

We believe there should be skin in the game in projects, and I think this is just another example of skin in the game, whether it’s up front or after the face.  I think it’s important that the agencies and the non-profit organizations we work with know we want serious work done.

Chairwoman Holmes Norton said concern has been expressed over how the commission’s administrative structure was initially set up and she asked Neimeyer if he thought the Denali commission would benefit from using a management structure more closely aligned with other regional commissions. He said the act establishing the commission has created some administrative problems that need addressing and although he says using a system that replicates the other commissions has value, but he cautioned that there are some vast differences that must be acknowledged.

I do need to note that we don’t have counties.  We have 200 tribes.  And the structure of the other commissions are set up in a different manner.  So, if we go through the process of trying to look like the other commissions – we are supportive of that – we do have to take note that we don’t lose that tribal voice.   A significant amount of our work is done in tribal areas, so we’d want to make sure that they had that opportunity to participate in the process.

Other regional economic development commissions are multi-state agencies as opposed to the Denali commission that is exclusive to Alaska. The combined 2011 federal budget proposed for all the commissions is just over $106-million.


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