Palin, other state leaders at odds over stimulus funds

Lawmakers concerned governor is seeking too little federal money

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

With hundreds of billions of dollars in economic stimulus money potentially at stake, leaders in local government and the state legislature seem to be finding themselves at odds with Gov. Sarah Palin.

Lawmakers say there are concerns that Palin is seeking too little federal stimulus money, and Alaska may not get its fair share.

With the recession starting to be felt around the state, Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said local officials were wondering whether enough money would be coming to support the economy.

"There's some nervousness or concern or wonder out there among community leaders if Alaska is going to sell itself short or get its fair share," he said.

Palin has sought only five projects from the federal government, four designed to help support the natural gas pipeline, along with the Kodiak Launch Complex.

Palin issued her list on Jan. 12, saying it would not be a good idea to ask for more, and cautioned it was necessary to be "mindful about the effect of the stimulus package on the national debt."

Sen. President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the Senate was seeking a "broader reach" for the stimulus that Palin was initially seeking, but that top Senate and House leaders would meet with her today to discuss the stimulus, among other topics.

"We are working with the governor hand in hand to deal with this," he said.

The Senate held a hearing Tuesday on a resolution introduced by Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, encouraging the state to seek its "fair share" of the stimulus money and spread the impact around the state.

Local officials from around the state called into a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday morning and listed projects they'd like to see included in the federal stimulus package. Energy projects, including Southeast electrical interties which could bring inexpensive hydro power to communities such as Kake and Hoonah, and spur their economies.

At Tuesday's Native Issues Forum, sponsored by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said Palin wasn't asking for enough money. Millions of dollars for deferred maintenance at schools and the University of Alaska Southeast could be added, he said.

Elton said Alaska might not have $1 billion worth of projects, "But we ought to get more than $140 million."

Ellis, who also serves as Senate Majority Leader, said the view was widespread.

"Most of us believe Alaska is entitled to something closer to a billion dollars than the couple of hundred million that's been asked for to date," Ellis said.

Stevens said he though Alaska's fair share was closer to $1.2 to $1.3 billion.

House leaders will join senators for a meeting with Palin today.

House Majority Leader Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, said members of his caucus had been told little about what the Palin administration was requesting.

"I'm still a little confused where the executive branch is at," he said.

Two weeks ago, Palin outlined some goals aimed at avoiding earmarks while seeking federal stimulus money.

"It's understandable that many Alaskans want to see some local projects advanced," Gov. Palin said. "But it's pretty clear that it won't happen in this stimulus package, and we need to be realistic about that."

She instead focused on five projects she said had national significance.

Hoffman has been seeking a definition of "earmarks" from Palin administration officials, hoping to find the sources of the disagreement on funding.

Palin has campaigned nationally against earmark abuses, and asked state agencies to limit their earmark requests.

Hoffman said his definition of earmarks may differ from the governor's.

"My definition of an earmark is a project that hasn't been vetted," he said.

The projects sought at Tuesday's teleconference hearing were community priorities that had been vetted publicly, not behind closed doors, he said.

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