Lawmakers urged to go for all federal stimulus funds

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Residents told Anchorage area lawmakers in no uncertain terms they want the state to apply for all federal funds for which Alaska is eligible under the federal stimulus plan.

Gov. Sarah Palin said last week that she would accept only 69 percent of the estimated $930 million dollars that could flow to the state, including $514 million for capital projects and $128 million for a hike in Medicaid reimbursement. Her aides say she wants a public discussion on the merits of taking money related to schools, energy programs and social services.

But her critics say in rejecting the stimulus money, the former GOP vice presidential candidate was making a play to the conservatives in the Republican party ahead of a possible presidential run in 2012.

"I'm really concerned that our governor has chosen to pander to her political pipe dream as opposed to ..." said Deanna Youngren, a special education instructor, before applause Saturday from the audience packed inside the Anchorage Assembly Chamber drowned out the rest of her statement.

Among funds that Palin would not apply for include $160 million for education. Palin raised the notion of hiring more teachers, only to lay them off later. She also said some of the federal money has strings attached, such as the state having to adopt and enforce uniform building codes if it accepts energy efficiency money.

She also said of the nation's multitrillion-dollar debt: "We can't keep digging this hole."

One protester stood outside the Anchorage Assembly chamber holding a sign which said: "We need a governor, not a presidential candidate."

Palin's budget director, Karen Rehfeld, said the controversy over the governor's stance on the stimulus money is somewhat misplaced. She said the administration hasn't yet rejected a single dollar of the stimulus funding.

In an e-mail to state lawmakers on Friday, Rehfeld promised state agencies "will continue to complete the necessary paperwork and applications and meet the specific deadlines" to collect all the stimulus money pending a public debate on whether to keep it.

Lawmakers can seek any stimulus funds that Palin leaves out of her proposal, however she retains veto rights.

State Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Hollis French, D-Anchorage, introduced a resolution Friday saying the Legislature "certifies the state's acceptance of all funds that may be available."

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said Palin "got some really bad advice" on the stimulus money.

"She's seeing strings attached that really don't exist," he said.

"I'm not interested in creating bigger government or funding we can't afford in the future," said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage. He wants more details on what the state is getting into if it takes all the stimulus money.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, is chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, where much of the debate will occur on the stimulus issue.

Meyer said Rehfeld told him Friday state commissioners will apply for all the money by the appropriate deadlines.

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