Les Gara rips Sarah Palin for giving away Alaska's money

From a Les Gara press release:

Yesterday Governor Palin announced she wasn't accepting roughly $170 million in education funds offered in the President's Economic Recovery legislation. She also rejected roughly $50 million in energy efficiency funds, aimed to decrease the nation's reliance of foreign oil imports. In California Governor Ahnohld is counting how much of that $220 million he'll be able to grab. Ahnold 1 - Alaska 0.

Les Gara

As you know, the Governor and I support a similar gas pipeline strategy. But it's my job to judge issues on their merits, join across party lines when I agree, but not duck my head in the sand when, um, when, uh. . . . how do I finish this sentence . . . .when our Governor WANTS TO TURN DOWN $170 MILLION DOLLARS IN EDUCATION HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who does that? Has any Governor given away that kind of money before? In Alaska we like to rack up lots of "we're different" points, and will go down in the record books as one of the more curious ones.

Judging by the number of e-mails I got on this one, and assuming the Governor got 40 times more - I suspect she may reconsider her stance on this one. There are whispers that she's doing this now. So, this may just be a short term tempest. When 40% of your state's kids don't graduate from high school, and the President offers you money to hire teachers for 2 years, it can cause a little tempest when you try to GIVE BACK $170 MILLION IN EDUCATION HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here are a few thoughts on the Federal Stimulus plan.

While the Governor's press release stated she was rejecting 45% of the roughly $1 billion in federal funds directed to our state, further analysis shows - with the Medicaid funds she accepted - that it's closer to 30%.

The $170 million she didn't accept (she says the Legislature can re-evaluate her decision) was largely for special education, and Title I schools (schools in economically disadvantaged areas). While Governor Palin rightly stated she's concerned about accepting federal funds that carry objectionable strings. . . . she was wrong in implying any strings were attached to these education funds. Alaska can either accept them, or not. If we do, we don't have to follow any rules we don't follow already in educating our kids.

Here's another concern I have about not accepting the funds to hire teachers and expand our educational efforts.

Under Governor Palin's proposed pre-stimulus money education budget, school districts across the state are already facing cutbacks. Here's some history. Last year the Democrats and Governor proposed a roughly $200 per student increase in education funding, under a formula that provides roughly $5800/student (it's higher in rural areas), for this and next year (Fiscal Years 09 and '10). The Legislature cut that increase in half, and adopted a $100 increase for this and next year. That's less than a 2% increase in base funding to our schools lags far behind inflation, and is forcing staff and other cuts in schools across the state.

This year, Reps. Pete Petersen, Harry Crawford and David Gruenberg and I have filed legislation to raise funding by $200/student, and most school districts have asked for this help. It would keep pace with inflation. The Governor, while she agreed with us last year, doesn't this year. I can accept this as a merit-based disagreement. But if her budget isn't amended, the Anchorage and Juneau School districts say a $100 increase is going to cause them to cut back from the education services they provide this year.

That makes the federal help more crucial. It will help soften the blow the Governor's hit schools with on the state education budget. It will soften the blow of her decision to drop her support for a $200 increase.

Building Codes?

The President's plan includes funds to enhance energy efficiency in homes, buildings and elsewhere. We need to reduce America 's dependence on foreign oil, and diversify our energy base. Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest way to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern and Russian oil imports. The federal legislation includes roughly $50 million in various pots of money for home energy efficiency upgrades, energy production and transmission, and conservation block grants.

So, it surprised many of us to hear the Governor say she was categorically declining the federal offer of energy efficiency and renewable energy funding. The Governor raised what she referred to as the danger of onerous "building codes" she believes Congress would require us to adopt in order to accept a portion of this funding. I don't like to say this, but she's factually wrong in her reading of the legislation. Roughly half of the energy funds are available regardless of whether the state adopts new codes.

What about the codes the Governor fears? The Governor referred back to building codes she saw back when she was a Mayor and noted Alaskans don't like mandates like that. Maybe. But here's what she missed in turning down funds that could make the nation more energy independent.

We're all still researching this, but the building codes she fears are not the kinds she saw when she was Mayor. Rather, the federal legislation seems to say this. Governors - to accept a segmented portion of the funds for federal Energy Grants - need to confirm the state will adopt an energy efficiency code - sometime in the next 8 years. We can adopt the International Energy Efficiency Code, or a similar locally tailored one.

How scary is the requirement that we should do this in the next 8 years? And is it an affront to the state? Will black helicopters have to drop off the building supplies for your next home?

Well, the Governor's advisers seem unaware of something very important, that should have led her to accept the energy help. The state's housing agency, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, has already adopted the IEEC Code. If you want an AHFC loan, you have to prove you will build an energy efficient home. And the Alaska Homebuilders Association - long opponents of expensive, onerous federal requirements, says this code is smart, easy to comply with, and they support the state's adoption of it statewide.

It appears that many of the funds the Governor has rejected to help us build a needed energy infrastructure, and weatherize our homes, aren't contingent upon adoption of the IEEC. And those that are only require us to do - in 8 years - what most states, and AHFC, are doing already. This issue requires some further research, but I suspect the Governor missed the point on this one.

So - I agree that if there are terrible, onerous federal requirements we have to adopt to accept federal funds, that's a concern. But the Governor hasn't identified any yet.

We need to filter through the reams of analysis of this legislation, figure out what funds make sense, and which, if any, don't. We need to all work together - the Legislature, the Governor, and the public.

A month ago I and other Democratic House members wrote the House Speaker and Senate President to recommend that we hold hearings to fully analyze the opportunities the federal law created for job creation, and the energy and education benefits. It's not too late. We still have a month in the Legislative session to do this, and I think folks on both sides of the aisle are ready to do that. I hope we can all work, and that the Governor will keep an open mind, so we don't let important opportunities slip through our hands.

As always, call with any questions.

Best Regards, Les

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