Governor backs off stance on stimulus

Legislature can seek any funds governor decides to reject

Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin appears to be backing off her aggressive stance against accepting some of the federal stimulus money for Alaska, and some lawmakers are disputing whether she "rejected" any money at all.

Palin on Thursday said she would accept only 69 percent of the estimated $930 million that could flow to the state. Palin said she would only accept money that did not create strings binding the state in the future.

The action spurred angry denunciations from activists for causes, such as education, for which Palin chose not to accept money.

"There was sort of a hue and cry from some sectors," said Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole.

Therriault, leader of the Senate Republican Minority, defended Palin's action, saying she didn't reject any money but simply announced what she would accept and gave the Legislature the opportunity to act on its own.

The Legislature can seek any stimulus funds Palin rejects, but the governor still has veto power.

Palin aides have said the governor is not "rejecting" any money.

Some legislators said Alaska should accept anything it could, even if it meant programs couldn't be maintained after the federal funding ended.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, likened the stimulus funding to five-year community policing grants offered by former President Bill Clinton.

"My neighborhood benefited greatly from them," Ellis said.

But when the money ended, Alaska was not compelled to continue a program it could not afford.

"We chose as a state not to continue; we decided we could not afford to," he said.

Therriault also questioned the motivation of those organizing demonstrations against Palin's action.

"It's all about fomenting unrest; it wasn't about getting information out to the public," he said.

Ellis said he believed Palin was clear in saying she was rejecting money.

"I was back in my district this past weekend, and Alaskans are concerned about the stimulus package and the fact that it appeared some funds aren't going to be received," said Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla.

What looks like a conflict might wind up improving relations between the governor and Legislature, he said.

This might be an opportunity to "stimulate our communications to be more productive for Alaskans," Huggins said.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, was among those disputing that Palin had ever threatened to not accept stimulus money.

"I looked at the governor's statement. I didn't hear a rejection," he said.

After Palin's announcement last week, the Empire asked her whether a decision to accept only a portion of the money meant there was a rejection of the remainder.

"If that's the way you want to look at it," Palin responded.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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