Gov. Sarah Palin, assisted by her cabinet members, fielded numerous questions ranging from the federal stimulus package to an in-state gas line at her first news conference in the capital city since the legislative session began 23 days ago.
About 40 people crowded into the governor's conference room, with commissioners and staff far outnumbering news reporters at the event.
Referring to notes and leaning on her commissioners for assistance, Palin spent more than an hour taking questions on challenges facing the state.
Palin ticked off several priorities for this legislative session that included making progress on a small diameter in-state pipeline that will provide natural gas for Alaskans, moving forward with a joint utility corporation for communities along the Alaska Railroad and making sure the state is living within its means in troubled economic times.
"Not dipping into reserves to such a degree that we will regret it in the future. We have great challenges there with our budget," Palin said.
Asked about the federal economic stimulus package in Congress, Palin said Alaska was ready to accept a projected $1 billion in federal funds, if it made sense for the state. But she criticized the measure for expanding social programs which could wind up costing the state in the long run.
"I beg to differ with the premise of this economic stimulus package that it, as a whole, stimulates the economy when you look at the programs that are entailed in this economic stimulus package, the programs that could end up costing a state so much more at the end of the day, those don't necessarily stimulate the economy. Construction projects do, they bring jobs," Palin said.
Asked about assistance to western Alaska villages where cash-squeezed residents are reportedly having to choose between food and fuel, Palin said the state was working on a number of fronts to find short and long-term solutions.
She said the villages have adequate supplies of food and fuel. The problem is residents can't afford to purchase them.
Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd outlined efforts to extend moose hunting opportunities in the region. Labor Commissioner Click Bishop said he planned to look into opening up more seafood processing jobs for youth in the villages. And Deputy Chief of Staff Randy Ruaro said the state is working to expand heating fuel assistance and bulk food deliveries.
Palin has been criticized for not doing enough to ensure state planes were available to take donated food and other supplies to the villages. Her administration has said it is hampered by laws that require an emergency declaration when the need does not fit the legal definition of an emergency.
Her legislative director, Jerry Gallagher, said proposed legislation in the state House that would allow state assets to be used for compassionate aid would be helpful in providing another tool to help communities in crisis.