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Alaska moves to repair image

Governor wants to hire PR firm

JUNEAU, Alaska -- It's known as The Last Frontier. But lately, Alaska is worried the rest of America sees it as the Freeloading Frontier.

Governor Frank Murkowski says it is time for an image makeover. He wants the state to hire a public relations firm to change the perception of Alaska and its people as greedy for federal dollars and all too willing to plunder the environment for profit.

Ultimately, he wants to sway public opinion in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Most Alaska politicians favor drilling in the refuge, which would fill the state's coffers like the trans-Alaska oil pipeline has done for decades. Environmentalists have fought back, and in December the state was thwarted again in Congress.

Alaska suffered another setback a few months ago during the furor over $450 million Congress appropriated for two ''Bridges to Nowhere" that became symbols of wasteful spending. Late-night comics mocked Alaska, and a columnist at the Washington Post jokingly recommended the United States sell Alaska back to Russia.

In reaction, Murkowski announced during his State of the State Address in January a plan to counter misperceptions about Alaska. ''Alaska does not just take. We give, and we have the capacity to give much, much more -- if permitted to do so," he said.

Alaska is one of the top recipients of federal largesse. In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, Alaska received $1.89 in federal spending for every $1 the state paid in taxes to Washington, according to the Tax Foundation.

At the same time, Alaska residents pay no state income tax, and only a few cities have a sales tax.

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