Lawmakers await possible Palin vetoes

Electronic health records system estimated at $27.5 million; governor gets 20 days to decide

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2009

FAIRBANKS - A week after the Alaska Legislature adjourned, lawmakers are waiting to find out if Gov. Sarah Palin will break out her veto pen.

Palin will have 20 days, not counting Sundays and holidays, to decide whether to use her veto power on spending and policy measures. As of Saturday, only 10 of the 61 bills and 29 resolutions approved by the Legislature had been sent to the governor.

Bills commonly wait a week or two before landing on the governor's desk, giving lawyers and accountants a chance to review the legislation.

Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, carried a bill that calls on Alaska to create an electronic health records system. The availability of federal money to launch the process was a motivator for lawmakers to approve the bill.

The Department of Health and Social Services estimates the total cost to the state at $27.5 million, with almost $25 million coming in stimulus dollars, if the state requests the money this year. The act offers a match of $10 in federal money for every $1 in state money the first year of the program. The federal match falls to $7 the following year and to $3 the year after.

However, Palin has not included that pot of money on her list of acceptable stimulus package money, citing strings attached.

Her final decision is not expected until May.

Office of Management and Budget Director Karen Rehfeld said Palin asked the Legislature to bring the public into the process of deciding which stimulus funds to accept.

"She will be evaluating that information and making decisions on the appropriation bills and the substantive legislation, including health records, unemployment insurance and air quality grants," Rehfeld said in an e-mail to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "And no, she has not said she would reject anything - she wants to make good decisions and she wants to make sure that these funds are used wisely and people understand they are one-time."

Palin said repeatedly throughout the session that she opposes accepting federal stimulus money that comes with strings attached. Paskvan said a month's delay is not a concern but a year's delay would be.

"The whole purpose of this is to save lives, provide better health care and, eventually, save a lot of money," he said. "It just puts people unnecessarily at risk for a longer period of time."

Besides accepting stimulus money, lawmakers approved $1.8 billion in capital spending. That included about $10 million for Sitka projects, but lawmakers there cautioned constituents not to count on the money just yet.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, told the Sitka Sentinel the governor might even veto projects paid for by the cruise visitor head tax.

"I would wait for the process to be completed before I got too excited," Stedman said.

The capital budget included $2 million in federal highway money for infrastructure projects on Japonski Island. The money was included in the capital budget that Palin submitted, but the governor in the past has vetoed her own budget requests.

Both Stedman and Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Sitka, said 2009 was an unusual legislative session for the budget. Typically, the governor submits a capital budget before the session and lawmakers tack on money for local projects. This year, the Legislature cut about $500 million from Palin's budget, Stedman said.

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