Palin budget cuts dismay legislators

Governor trims $3.2 million from Juneau projects

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin announced Friday she was cutting nearly a quarter billion dollars from the state's budget with the use of her line-item veto, including more than $3.2 million in Juneau projects.

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Reaction from legislators ranged from disappointment to anger.

Palin announced at an Anchorage news conference she had used her veto power to chop $237 million from the state's budget, trying to make it sustainable.

Members of the Juneau delegation said they were disappointed with the reasoning behind the cuts as well as how Palin went about making them.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he was dismayed at Palin's method of operation.

"For a governor who believes in an open and transparent process, we didn't have one," he said.

Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, said she was unhappy with the governor's veto process, but said she didn't much like the Alaska Legislature's method of drafting the capital budget either. More openness in that process, she said, would have given Juneau's delegation more ability to explain their projects.

Projects cut:

• Alaska Marine Exchange - coverage of Southeast waterways, $150,000.*

• Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska - capacity building, $12,500.*

• Great Alaska Council Boy Scouts - Eagle River campsite improvements.

• Gastineau Human Services - residence, office equipment upgrades.

• Hub Youth Center - audio, visual, recreation equipment.

• JEDC - Knowledge Industry Network.

• REACH - Canvas Art Studio electrical.

• Southeast Alaska Guidance Association - Eagle Valley Center repairs, $25,000.*

• Territorial Sportsmen - public use cabins

• Juneau (Valley) ball field -drainage and Astroturf.

• Juneau Paul Emerson Park - access and improvements.

• Lemon Creek Correctional Center - dental equipment.

• Douglas Island FAA monitoring station - electrical service, $1.4 million.*

• Juneau Hunter Education Facility - archery range, classroom.

• Juneau-area state parks marine work boat, $55,000.*

Source: Governor's Office

*Partial funding amount

Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton said the governor fully expected that legislators throughout the state would be upset with her mission to rein in government growth and spending.

"She made no decision based upon legislators and how they might feel," Stapleton said.

Juneau officials and legislators identified a new power line for the Federal Aviation Administration monitoring station on Douglas Island as a top regional priority, but Palin cut $1 million from the $2.4 million project.

Elton questioned Palin's criteria in making cuts, eliminating projects in Juneau while approving similar projects in her hometown of Wasilla.

"I'm upset," he said. "I don't understand it."

Raising Elton's ire: Cutting $100,000 for improvement to Juneau's Paul Emerson Park, while funding a $630,00 kitchen for a Wasilla sports complex. Cutting $100,000 for a new ball field in the Mendenhall Valley, while spending $100,000 for bleachers in Palmer.

Kerttula called the cuts "a little surprising, a little disappointing."

Palin's staff was "a little disengaged" from the legislative process, she said, and did not give lawmakers guidance on what types of projects she'd approve.

"We went into this process understanding one thing, and putting a lot of time and energy into it," she said.

In announcing the vetoes, Palin said she wanted the state to "live within our means," a statement she's made repeatedly since taking office last December.

"Even though we have a surplus, that doesn't warrant a spending spree on an unlimited credit card," she said.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said he was disappointed with many of the cuts as well, especially those that seemed to fit Palin's announced goals and met crucial needs.

"The Legislature's capital budget was reasonable, thoughtful and well within the state's financial means to support," he said.

Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton pointed out that one big project that did fare well was a multi-million dollar hydroelectric power intertie for the Ketchikan and Wrangell areas.

Long-term oil production is expected to decline, and Palin said it was important for the state to save now for the future.

"I'm a fiscal conservative, and I was elected a fiscal conservative," she said.

Palin said local project decisions could be best be made by local governments, not by individual legislators in the state's budget.

The state's budget will instead fully fund a $48 million revenue sharing program for communities, but cut $237 million in capital projects added by the Legislature, she said.

Numerous Juneau projects were either reduced or cut entirely.

Doll said she was particularly disappointed that REACH's Canvas Art Studio electrical upgrades were eliminated. That project has "inestimable value for our people with special needs," she said.

In some cases, Kerttula said, Palin appears to have vetoed projects that met her announced criteria.

The governor's spokeswoman disagreed. Palin thoughtfully and carefully analyzed this budget, and made decisions based on criteria she announced, Stapleton said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com or 523-2250.



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