That was former Alaska House Minority Leader, Ethan Berkowitz this morning, describing the consternation caused by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's refusal to accept almost half of President Obama's Federal stimulus package.
Berkowitz participated with National Education Association Alaska president, Barb Angaiak; Democratic Party candidate for Alaska Governor, Bob Poe; and Alaska Democratic Party chairwoman, Patti Higgins, in a late Friday morning on-line press conference from Alaska Democratic Party Headquarters.
Berkowitz described the legislative process necessary to deal with the money Palin has rejected. I appears that 3/4 of the Alaska legislature will need to vote in favor of accepting the funds as a "Federal appropriation," to ensure enough votes to override the governor's veto.
Poe stressed the selfishness of Palin's refusal, stating intially, "It's all about her, it isn't about Alaska. This really is a narcissistic decision on Palin's part. Alaskans are caught in the cross-fire of her political ambitions."
Angaiak recited the educational programs affected by Palin's decision. All three emphasized that during a winter when the perception is that Alaska - rural Alaska especially - is in need of help, our governor is only willing to concentrate on items that fit her agenda.
And, from my questions about possible communication between the Palin administration and the legislature about how a Federal appropriation might be dealt with in the few remaining days of this year's session, it appears the executive branch is unready or unwilling to help.
Poe was upset, dryly stating that Palin's decision is "just playing a political game." but Berkowitz was quite animated. He stated, "We need community organizers to come forward to confront this situation where an ideologue is sacrificing Alaskans' real needs for their ambitions." Berkowitz joked a bit about the term "community organizers," and Poe backed him up, stating "Alaska is one great big small town, and we're all in this together."
Alaska Senator Mark Begich wasn't in on the conference. Sen. Begich is currently under fire from progressives for joining with the Senate "Blue Dogs" and "DINOs" to form what is being called the "ConservaCrat Coalition." Yesterday, he issued a statement urging the Alaska legislature to "act swiftly in accepting the remaining stimulus dollars Gov. Palin is leaving on the table."
Fairbanks legislator David Guttenberg joined the conference late, and didn't provide much valuable information.
Nor was Rep. Les Gara present or on the phone. Just this week Gara was used by Palin in a cynical ploy for support the evening before her AGIA press availability, but left in the lurch regarding her Thursday morning announcement on the rejection of the stimulus funds. Gara did send out a detailed email on the funds this morning, though. It was partially in response to the many comments garnered by his post at the Mudflats on his AGIA support.
Here it is:
1. Under Governor Palin’s 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, and lags far behind inflation.
This year, instead of joining the House Democrats and trying to fix this for the upcoming year (Reps Petersen, I, Crawford and Gruenberg have filed legislation to raise funding by $200/student, and most school districts have asked for this help), the governor has sided with the House Republicans. That would at least keep pace with inflation. The Governor and House Republicans have said No. So – even with other pots of money that increase some aspects of state funding for schools – 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 (she’s never explained her reversal of position).
2. Scary Building codes.
“Alaska needs an energy plan, and Alaskans want us to build a more diverse energy infrastructure. Renewable energy is the wave of the future, and Alaska is far behind many other states in this movement.
That’s why it surprised many of us to hear the Governor say she was declining the federal offer of energy efficiency and renewable energy funding. That raised a few eyebrows by those who’ve read the federal legislation. The Governor raised what she referred to as the scary specter of onerous “building codes” she thinks Congress would require us to adopt to accept a portion of this funding. She referred back to building codes she saw back when she was a mayor and said Alaskans don’t like those things. 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 we don’t’ think there is any true “building code” requirement in the federal legislation. Rather, the 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.
That is, President Obama would like Americans to save energy when we construct homes and buildings, to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. An aside. Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest way to reduce our dependent on Middle Eastern and Russian oil imports.
How Scary is the requirement that we should do this in the next 8 years, as the President has asked? 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 may not know this. But 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.
And, 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. That requires some further research.
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, and she’s had weeks to review this legislation.
The education money the Governor rejected comes with no strings, unless helping improve educational outcomes in a state that has terrible ones is a “String”.. The energy money is tailored to the nation’s goal of reducing foreign oil imports.
1. Begich and Berkowitz photo by TheKoKon's Ishmael, taken at Crab Fest 2008 Frog Jumping Contest at Tony's Bar in Kodiak
2. Mark Begich and Bob Poe
3. Les Gara and Katie Hurley