--- by Ethan Berkowitz
She called it “a bribe”. That’s how Gov. Sarah Palin described the stimulus money she rejected. What does that make stimulus money she took, and all the other federal money woven into the state? What does it make the energy relief money Alaskans received last year? How does this name calling make federal leaders more likely to help Alaska in the future?
In these unusually trying circumstances, the Governor was wrong not to accept the stimulus money, and she compounded her mistake by injecting divisive inflammatory rhetoric into the discussion. Stimulus money helps safeguard Alaskan jobs and Alaskan opportunities in extremely turbulent times.
I can’t say what was in the Governor’s mind when she made this decision. I can say that it is insensitive to the plight of vulnerable Alaskans, incomprehensible given the realities of how the stimulus works, and indefensible because the facts just don’t back up her stated reasons for turning aside the money. Hard times are more than economic statistics that give policy makers indigestion. They mean individuals losing jobs, schools losing teachers, families losing health care. They mean bankruptcies, more domestic violence, more hungry people showing up at food banks.
Hard times land on real people, and real leaders should provide real answers. Governor Palin turned aside $2 million that would have gone to feed the hungry when our food banks already report serving growing numbers of people. She even rejected money that would have gone to help victims of domestic violence. She refused more than $170 million of education money –which is difficult to reconcile with her claims to value and support education. She failed to accept funds that every other governor in the country willingly received.
The economic and human truth is that adding stimulus money to Alaska’s economy means jobs and opportunity in our state. Whether those jobs are permanent may be subject to argument, but for the time that they exist, those jobs will put food on family tables, and keep roofs over family heads. The multiplier effect of those wages will keep stores solvent and communities afloat. That money will make a difference to the lives it touches.
I heard the governor talk about the dangers of excessive national debt – but I didn’t hear her tell us the reality that governors across the country, Republicans and Democrats, stand ready to take Alaska’s stimulus money, and educate their kids, weatherize their homes, and protect their jobs. As Alaskans, we’re tough, but this course plays us for fools. To be clear, the money she rejects doesn’t return to the federal treasury, it doesn’t impact the national debt one cent, it just goes to another state. On top of all of that, when the governor is anxious to write a $500 million check to stimulate a Canadian gas pipeline company, it doesn’t make sense that she turns down a far smaller amount of federal money that would go to help Alaskans.
The reality of governing means that the governor and her administration have the responsibility to make informed decisions before acting. The evidence here is that the governor failed to consult with would-be beneficiaries of the stimulus, a failure of process that belies her promises of open and transparent governance. She said we couldn’t take more than $37 million of energy assistance because we needed to adopt energy efficient building codes first. Wrong. Weatherization funds and block grants are separate from any building code requirement. As for the education funds – it doesn’t make sense that zero funds to teach kids for the next two years is better than $170 million for that time frame, that special education students should forego $34 million, and that declining $50,000 of emergency school lunch money does any good.
So Governor, do the right thing. Take the stimulus. Make sure Alaskans know that you truly have our interests at heart.
images -- by Denis Zaki and AK Muckraker