Palin resignation costs Alaska at least $40,000

Final price tag is fraction of what Palin claims state paid fighting 'frivolous' ethics complaints

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Early estimates put the cost of Sarah Palin's midterm resignation as Alaska governor at a minimum of $40,000, not including a special legislative session partly linked to her departure.

The preliminary figures obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show it cost the state almost $14,100 for the swearing-in ceremony of new Gov. Sean Parnell in Fairbanks on July 26 after Palin formally stepped down the same day before a massive crowd in the interior city. The price tag for moving Palin - the former GOP vice presidential candidate - and her family from the governor's mansion in Juneau amounted to more than $3,328. Travel costs for the governor's office associated with the transition totaled more than $6,700.

Not included in the tally is the estimated cost of more than $100,000 for a one-day special session held last month in which state lawmakers confirmed Palin's surprise pick to replace Parnell as lieutenant governor and overrode her May 21 veto of $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds intended for energy efficiency projects.

The final price tag will be a mere fraction of the roughly $2 million Palin has said it cost the state dealing with "frivolous" ethics complaints against her. Still, bloggers, residents, newspaper letter writers and lawmakers alike have questioned what they saw as unnecessary costs associated with Palin's resignation 17 months before the end of her first term.

Suggesting the resignation cost the state is "incredibly misleading," Palin's spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton, said in an e-mail Friday.

"The resignation was quite simply added to a previously scheduled governor's picnic and was organized by the lieutenant governor's office," she said. "The governor didn't even stay in a hotel room. However, by selflessly resigning, no doubt Governor Palin saved the state millions of dollars expected to be further wasted on even more frivolous complaints, FOIA requests and lawsuits."

The transition costs are a small price to pay, as far as state Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, is concerned. Lawmakers have said the former governor appeared disengaged from state affairs after being catapulted into political fame as John McCain's running mate, and Hawker believes the low-key Parnell will do a better job at the helm than Palin.

"She's a superstar. He's a budget wonk," he said Friday. "Up front, it may have cost the state $40,000, but Sean's going to save the state far more in operating costs in his first budget."

Other transition costs disclosed to the AP are $4,626 in assorted expenditures by the governor's office such as official photos of the new governor and lieutenant governor, letterhead and business cards. The state Department of Labor estimates expenditures of $9,082 for new letterhead, brochures and forms while the Department of Administration projects spending more than $1,600 on new letterhead.

"All in all, it may have been a little less than I had anticipated," Robert Pearson, special assistant to the administration commissioner, said of the total.

Hawker doesn't consider the cost of the Aug. 10 special session as fallout of the resignation. He said lawmakers had to meet anyway to consider overriding Palin's veto of energy stimulus funds. Palin's press representatives while in office also noted that lawmakers called themselves into the special session, not the governor.

State Rep. Les Gara, however, said Palin could have avoided the need for a special session.

Given the legislative support for vetoed stimulus funds, Palin could have sent a good faith letter to the federal government that new and renovated structures in Alaska would be constructed under energy efficiency standards through 2017, as required, Gara said. He believes she also could have stuck with her original choice for lieutenant governor.

Each legislative session, Alaska's governor selects someone as a backup to the lieutenant governor, and Palin nominated Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt this year.

But in her July 3 resignation announcement, she announced that Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Craig Campbell would replace Parnell, without explaining why she wasn't turning to Schmidt. Lawmakers ended up approving Campbell during the special session.

"If I were in her shoes, I would have tried to avoid the cost and inconvenience of a special session," Gara said. "It's not the biggest thing in the world, but I would have done it differently."

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