ANCHORAGE - Alaska Democrats on Monday accused Gov. Sarah Palin of abdicating her duties with her decision to travel outside the state this week as the state Legislature's session winds down.
"She is putting her national political ambitions ahead of the needs of Alaska," Alaska Democrat Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins said at a news conference.
Palin, the former GOP vice presidential candidate, has not ruled out a presidential run in 2012. She also has not indicated whether she will seek re-election next year.
The Legislature must conclude its work by Sunday, with the federal stimulus package and the capital budget yet to be approved. Palin is scheduled to leave the state later this week to attend a right-to-life fundraiser Thursday in Indiana.
"Where is Sarah Palin? She is going to be halfway across the country, she's at a right-to-life fundraiser and another event," Higgins said. "We need a full-time governor who is thinking about our issues all the time, who is working and negotiating with the legislators and getting the job done we need done."
According to the governor's office, Palin personally informed legislative leaders of the trip and none expressed concern about it.
"During the final week of session, legislators rarely want governors around stirring things up," Palin's chief of staff, Mike Nizich, said in a prepared statement. "We did not anticipate that the governor's political opponents would want their hands held in the final hours of the session."
"It is nothing more than a politically charged shot in the dark," he said. "We view the legislative session as a very serious state issue. This isn't politics for us; this is Alaska's future."
Palin and lawmakers have been at odds over whether to accept some $930 million in federal stimulus funding. Palin has contended the funding would create a burden on the state down the road by creating programs the state would have to fund once the federal money runs dry.
House Finance Committee co-Chairman Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, has said he had similar concerns when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted by Congress in February. But in studying the measure, he came to a different conclusion and said there doesn't appear to be the strings attached that Palin has warned about.
Lawmakers have indicated they will seek all federal money available under the stimulus package, but Palin has veto power.
"This is our state, and it's our economy, and it's our jobs and it's our future and it's our children, and you're leaving everything on the table," Higgins said.
"We don't know if she doesn't just understand it or if she's trying to play games," Higgins said.
Lawmakers also have to pass the capital budget before Sunday. Palin had submitted a $2.2 billion budget, but lawmakers last week lopped $500 million off her proposal.
Palin apparently cited state business as a reason for not accepting the keynote speaker position at a prominent GOP fundraiser in June.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the Senate GOP committee, last month said Palin's team informed the campaign committees that her responsibilities in Alaska prevented her from committing to the June 8 speech until the end of the legislative session. Palin has said she never committed to the speech, and was replaced by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
On Thursday night, Palin will be attending the Vanderburgh County Right to Life dinner in Evansville, Ind., and a breakfast the following day with members of S.M.I.L.E., a nonprofit support organization for people with family members who have Down syndrome.
Palin's son, Trig, was born with the condition. He turns 1 year old Saturday.
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