From David Hulen in Anchorage --
The governor's office is stressing today that Gov. Palin wants to work with lawmakers on the question of what federal stimulus money to accept. Meanwhile, she's continuing to come under fire for not accepting more of the money (including from various Alaska Democrats; see statements below).
Update: Anchorage schools superintendent Carol Comeau and acting mayor Matt Claman spoke with local news media at the school district's headquarters this morning on the topic of stimulus funds; Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell showed up and made the point that the administration wants to talk about it. We'll have video from that and a story online soon.
Here's a statement put out by the governor's office this morning:
March 20, 2009, Juneau, Alaska - Governor Sarah Palin today reaffirmed her desire to generate public discussion and to work with legislators on identifying any additional spending from the federal stimulus package that Alaska could sustain with state money once stimulus funds have expired.
At a news conference on Thursday, the governor indicated that she is not requesting nearly $300 million being offered to Alaska out of an estimated $930 million. She cited concerns about budget sustainability and federal “strings” that would dictate state policy.
Governor Palin also said that she expects a good discussion about the funds still on the table, including about $170 million for education.
The governor said during her opening statement at Thursday’s news conference:
“What we think we need is kind of a time-out where we back up and pause, and we really think about what we’re doing here, and we work with the lawmakers and their priorities, and we think about what we’re spending, why we’re spending it. We have to be real about this. And we’re going to invite Alaska’s discussion via our lawmakers on this issue.
“I will not request stimulus package funds that subject Alaska to more federal control and ever-increasing federal mandates. And that’s why we’re seeking more information on every line item that we’d have to include if we were to request more from the feds. That’s what the open, legislative, public process will provide – more opportunity for more information.”
Regarding the education funds in the stimulus, the governor wrote to a concerned parent Thursday: “I have to certify that every dollar we apply for will legitimately create new jobs and stimulate the economy. I can’t certify that fact until the Legislature is comfortable with what education’s fiscal landscape will look like if we apply for the funds, grow more programs, hire teachers but then have to lay them off if the Legislature isn’t willing to continue funding.
“We’ve increased education funding in Alaska at historical levels during my administration because it is our priority. We want to make sure any new dollars complement what we’ve already grown.”
More information on the federal economic stimulus package is available on the Office of Management & Budget website at alaska.gov/recovery. Audio of the governor’s quote from Thursday’s press conference can be found at the following link: http://www.gov.state.ak.us/audio/StimulusPressConf_Mar19-2009-GovClip.mp3
From Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown:
Community Leaders Criticize Palin’s Decision to Reject Alaska’s Stimulus Money
Needs of Alaskans are sacrificed for Palin’s national ambitions
Anchorage, AK – Governor Palin’s decision to reject millions of federal stimulus dollars allocated to Alaska drew criticism from community leaders at a press conference in Anchorage today.
Barb Angaiak, President of the National Education Association of Alaska (NEA-Alaska), called Palin's decision to reject more than $160 million of federal stimulus funds for Alaska education “logic-defying, dumb-founding, short-sighted – and a slap in the face to parents, children and educators across Alaska.”
"Governor Palin has deliberately chosen to ignore the education needs of tens of thousands of children across Alaska. Her attempt to score short term gains will have long-term, dire consequences for our students and educators," Angaiak said. "Her message to our children is callously blunt: 'In the interests of my political agenda, you're on your own.'"
Bob Poe, Democratic candidate for Governor of Alaska, said: “This is a cynical effort on Sarah Palin’s part to appeal to her ultra conservative national base in her campaign for President. This is why I decided to run for Governor in the first place – Alaska needs a governor focused on Alaska’s well being, not on personal political ambitions.”
Ethan Berkowitz, former Democratic leader of the Alaska House of Representatives, said: “This poorly considered decision hurts real people and sacrifices real opportunities, demonstrates a disregard for transparency in the public process, and is ultimately harmful to our efforts to build a gas pipeline.”
Palin’s position on rejecting stimulus money is “outrageous and troubling,” said Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins. “It’s very clear that Palin is sacrificing the needs of Alaskans for her national political ambitions,” Higgins said.
Rob Rosenfeld, also a Democratic candidate for Governor of Alaska, was not able to attend the press conference, but issued a statement: “I am simply appalled with Governor Palin’s recent decision to reject federal stimulus money at the very same time that Alaska experiences 3rd world living conditions. Rural Alaska is in a state of emergency. We must bring national attention to the conditions of Rural Alaska and to Governor Palin´s lack of interest in addressing the urgent needs of the people.”
From Rep. Mike Doogan's constituent e-mail on Friday:
Saying No to Federal Money is Un-Alaskan
Gov. Sarah Palin threw everybody a curve by rejecting a third of the federal stimulus money our Uncle Sam wants to give us. Turning down free federal money. Whodda thunk it?
This sparked some grumbling about how Palin’s presidential ambitions -- right-wing Republicans are bound to love her rejecting money from that arch-Satan, Barack Obama – are depriving Alaska schoolchildren and the unemployed of money that will help them.
That’s not the end of it, though. The legislature can still accept the money by passing a resolution doing so.
That’s not the end of it, though. Once the state gets the money, it goes right into the regular appropriations process, which means Palin can veto it.
That’s not the end of it, though. A three-quarters vote of each House can override her veto.
From state Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage:
It surprised many of us to hear the Governor say she was declining the federal offer of energy efficiency and renewable energy funding. That raised a few eyebrows by those who’ve read the federal legislation. The Governor raised what she referred to as the scary specter of onerous “building codes” she thinks Congress would require us to adopt to accept a portion of this funding. She referred back to building codes she saw back when she was a mayor and said Alaskans don’t like those things. Maybe. But here’s what she missed in turning down funds that could make the nation more energy independent.
We’re all still researching this, but we don’t’ think there is any true “building code” requirement in the federal legislation. Rather, the legislation seems to say this. Governors - to accept a segmented portion of the funds for federal Energy Grants - need to confirm the state will adopt an energy efficiency code – sometime in the next 8 years. We can adopt the International Energy Efficiency Code, or a similar locally tailored one.
That is, President Obama would like Americans to save energy when we construct homes and buildings, to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. An aside. Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest way to reduce our dependent on Middle Eastern and Russian oil imports.
How Scary is the requirement that we should do this in the next 8 years, as the President has asked? And is it an affront to the state? Will black helicopters have to drop off the building supplies for your next home?
Well, the Governor may not know this. But the state’s housing agency, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, has already adopted the IEEC Code. If you want an AHFC loan, you have to prove you will build an energy efficient home. And the Alaska Homebuilders Association – long opponents of expensive, onerous federal requirements, says this code is smart, easy to comply with, and they support the state’s adoption of it statewide.
And, it appears that many of the funds the Governor has rejected to help us build a needed energy infrastructure, and weatherize our homes, aren’t contingent upon adoption of the IEEC. That requires some further research.
So – I agree that if there are terrible, onerous federal requirements we have to adopt to accept federal funds, that’s a concern. But the Governor hasn’t identified any yet, and she’s had weeks to review this legislation.
Education Problems – Anchorage will suffer cuts without the federal funds, under Governor Palin’s FY 10 Education proposal.:
Under Governor Palin’s education budget, school districts across the state are already facing cutbacks. Here’s some history. Last year the Democrats and Governor proposed a roughly $200 per student increase in education funding, under a formula that provides roughly $5800/student (it’s higher in rural areas), for this and next year (Fiscal Years 09 and ‘10). The Legislature cut that increase in half, and adopted a $100 increase for this and next year. That’s less than a 2% increase, and lags far behind inflation.
This year, instead of joining the House Democrats and trying to fix this for the upcoming year (Reps Petersen, I, Crawford and Gruenberg have filed legislation to raise funding by $200/student, and most school districts have asked for this help), the governor has sided with the House Republicans. A $200 Increase would at least keep pace with inflation. The Governor and House Republicans have said No. So – even with other pots of money that increase some aspects of state funding for schools – the Anchorage and Juneau School districts say a $100 increase is going to cause them to cut back from the education services they provide this year.
That makes the federal help more crucial. It will help soften the blow the Governor’s hit schools with on the state education budget. It will soften the blow of her decision to drop her support for a $200 increase (she’s never explained her reversal of position).