'Resource rebate'

Governor Palin tries to sell same bad wine in new bottle

July 26, 2008 

Gov. Sarah Palin's proposal to hand every Alaskan an extra $1,200 this year was a bad idea when she called it "energy relief." She has since relabeled the $1,200 payment a "resource rebate," but it's still a bad idea.

Alaskans are already counting on Permanent Fund dividend checks this fall of almost $2,000 each. Every man, woman and child who's a bona fide resident will get the payment.

In any other state, residents would faint with joy if their politicians handed out that kind of money. An Alaska family of four is going to collect $8,000. That's not enough to help Alaskans cope with the spike in energy prices?

If there weren't such a big dividend in the pipeline, Gov. Palin would have a better case for her proposed payout.

She's right to point out that the same high oil prices that are filling the state treasury are whacking Alaskans at the gas pump and on their energy bills. For the poor, especially in rural Alaska where jobs are scarce and energy costs are nearly double those in Anchorage, the price spike is an economic disaster.

But we already have a way to share some of the state's oil wealth with Alaska's shareholder-citizens. It's the Permanent Fund dividend. This year, it's going to be a big one. And it's going to come out this fall -- just when any energy relief check or resource rebate would arrive.

Gov. Palin's big payday will cost more than $700 million. That one-time payment will quickly disappear into Alaska's economy and be gone.

By contrast, the $700-plus million would be almost half the $1.5 billion price tag for a hydropower project under consideration at Lake Chakachamna, which might be an affordable and responsible way to produce clean, inflation-free electricity to the Railbelt for a century.

The governor's payout carries such a big price tag because it includes two big classes of check-cashers who don't need the money: those who are reasonably well off, and children.

Including dependent children is just plain silly. Children do not pay energy bills; their parents do. If Gov. Palin's payout were limited to the head of each household, it would make a lot more sense.

For the well-to-do, higher energy prices are little more than an annoyance. Do the Wally Hickels of the world really need state help paying their energy bills? Does a 1-year old toddler deserve the same "energy relief" as an elderly woman, living alone and eating cat food so she can keep the lights on?

Alaskans may not realize it, but Gov. Palin and the Legislature have already done a lot to target energy help where it's needed.

Earlier this year, they put $300 million into home energy conservation programs. For the first time ever, they added state funding to a federal program that helps the poor pay their energy bills. Lawmakers boosted funds for electricity subsidies in high-cost rural communities. They set aside $250 million for alternative energy projects over five years.

Now that energy prices have shot up even further, the Legislature can certainly take another look at those targeted energy aid programs. Oil at $120 a barrel increases the need, and the state's ability to meet it.

Legislators can also take another look at whether to fund more alternative energy projects. With today's oil wealth, the state can afford to partner with the private sector on projects that produce long-term savings. But lawmakers shouldn't throw billions of dollars at half-baked alternative energy schemes, as House Speaker John Harris proposed.

As Thursday's vote in the House community and regional affairs committee made clear, lawmakers are not really talking about energy price relief. They are debating whether to supercharge this fall's Permanent Fund dividend -- conveniently timed to arrive before Election Day.

That may be good election-year politics, but it's an expensive excuse for an energy policy.

BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers should just say no to Gov. Palin's $1,200-a-person handout.


Who's up / Who's down

DOWN Southcentral Alaskans: Suffer through unrelenting dark, dank summer short on sun and long on chill. Stock up on the Valium.

DOWN Coffee shop robbers: Don't get the right drink or the money at one coffee shop, and get caught after successfully robbing Cafe Loco on the Old Seward. Geez, just get a percolator.

UP Valley fishers: Silvers swim in force into Valley streams that were deprived of decent king runs. Cohoho and a bottle of roe.

DOWN Whales: Transient killer whales implicated in the deaths of three humpbacks in Lower Cook Inlet. Heard of sea cucumbers, but sea cannibals?

UP Gov. Sarah: House votes twice to say aye-aye on AGIA.

DOWN Gov. Sarah: Monegan mess has lawmakers calling for investigation, family affairs publicly aired and AGIA shouldered off center stage. Not swell for the Belle.

DOWN Alaska Air: Namesake carrier to cut staff and flights. Fewer flights, high gas prices. ... When cabin fever runs too high we'll have to bike out.

UP Tyler Motoyama: 11-year-old Hope angler catches pinks like a pro and knows fishing comes before breakfast. Now there's a future fishing guide.

DOWN Alaska voters: Ballot Measure 4 does what? Stop Pebble? Shut down mining? Save salmon? Kill jobs? We got till Aug. 26 to figure it out.

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