Governor Sarah Palin announced today that she is proposing legislation which will allow Alaska to accept only a little more than half of the federal stimulus funds for which her state is eligible. Palin gave several examples that underlined her reasoning for wanting to reject the funds. In total, if the bill were passed, $515 million (55%) of the nearly $1 billion would be rejected by the state.
Stating that she was wary of federal "strings," attached to the stimulus funding, the governor asked:
"Will we chart our own course, or will Washington (D.C.) engineer it for us?"
Expressing her commitment to the principles of federalism and the division of powers envisioned by the founders, Gov. Palin quoted Thomas Jefferson:
"When all government domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided on one government on another, and will become as oppressive as the government from which we separated.
Rejected by Palin's bill will be millions that the governor says will force Alaska to increase the size of government, spend more taxpayer dollars or pass new legislation which Alaskans might not want.
More specifically, Gov. Palin is refusing nearly $170 million for education, millions for health and human services, about $17 million for labor programs, about $7 million related to public safety; and several million dollars for energy projects.
Palin's reasoning for just saying "no" to the funding is that the energy money would require Alaska to enact building code legislation, while the other funds could result in more state employees being hired and programs enacted that can't be maintained in the future. The governor declared:
"We are not requesting funds intended to just grow government. We are not requesting more money for normal day to day operations of government as part of this economic stimulus package. In essence we say no to operating funds for more positions in government."
In a press conference this morning, Gov. Palin said she looks forward to a public discussion in the Legislature about other funding in what she dubbed a "growth of government package."
She said she hopes the Legislature will have enough time to take up the stimulus issues before an April 3 deadline for her to accept the federal money. Palin said that she won't "get myself in a box" by saying she will or will not veto measures by the Legislature which might accept more money than she is advising.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that reaction to Gov. Palin's announcement has been mixed:
Members of the all-Republican state Senate minority said Palin is taking a wise course and it’s important not to accept federal money that could end up costing the state in the long run.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara suggested Palin could be pandering to voters outside Alaska and said it’s hurting the state's education, public safety and quality of life.
"I’m worried the governor is taking this sort of national political stance which is that she’s going to be the opposite of Barack Obama on everything," he said.
At the press conference, State Senator Gene Therriault, a Republican, stated that he supports what he termed as "responsible restraint" on the governor's part.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich issued a written statement today calling for lawmakers to accept the remainder of the stimulus money, falling back on the familiar Democrat refrain to "do it for the children":
"I trust the legislature will do the right thing and take Alaska’s share of the money for education in the economic recovery package," the statement quotes Begich as saying. "We owe it to our children to give them the most opportunities possible, and this is money fairly allocated to Alaska in this stimulus package."
The governor's office said the specifics of what she does and doesn't plan to accept will be made available online once her bill is submitted to the Legislature. The news release from Gov. Palin's office is here, and video from the governor's press conference via KTUU is here.
Update: A .pdf breaking down the Alaska stimulus money by the governor's office is here.