It's hard to understand why Gov. Sarah Palin is reluctant to take Alaska's full $930.7 million share of federal stimulus money. Failure to take the money will hurt our economy, cost jobs and deny extra help to the state's school children.
Rejecting $288 million of Alaska's share, as Palin has indicated she might do, will help the national debt little, if at all. Big chunks of money the governor is considering rejecting will simply be redistributed to other states. Does Gov. Palin want to send Alaska jobs to California?
Last month, Gov. Palin said she was accepting only stimulus money for construction and not $288 million designated for other purposes. She asserted (sometimes incorrectly) that there are strings attached to parts of the package. She complained that taking all the money would grow government and add to the national debt.
Palin soon modified that stance, saying she was still considering what funds to accept but wanted the Legislature to weigh in.
This week, she suggested accepting $93 million in federal stimulus education funds she previously spurned, but only if an equal amount of state funding were taken out of the education budget.
That latest idea is particularly off base. It might or might not be legal to substitute federal money for state money, but it would definitely violate the purpose of the federal stimulus. The point is to put more money into the economy and create jobs, not to help states keep money in the bank.
And refusing stimulus money would deprive school districts of a temporary boost that could be used for staff training, adding public preschools, tutors, summer programs, building repairs -- all things that improve the quality of education for Alaska students.
The Legislature can step in and accept all of the federal stimulus money still on the table except for two pots: the $93 million in school funds and $20.7 million in discretionary funds, which lawmakers may send to communities as revenue sharing. Under the federal stimulus law, only the governor can secure those two pots of cash.
The $8 million or so that Anchorage could get as revenue sharing could help fill the city's budget shortfall.
If the Legislature defies the governor and votes to accept the remaining stimulus money, Gov. Palin can veto any or all of it. The Legislature would have to call itself back into session and secure a three-fourths vote to overturn a veto.
So, the governor will decide whether Alaskans get the full benefit of the federal stimulus money.
We believe Alaskans deserve it. We are not hurt as badly as those in many states by the recession, but we too have lost jobs and watched the balances in retirement funds go down. Our tourism industry is suffering. Our oil industry is pulling back.
As a pro-development, pro-jobs governor, Palin should do the right thing and accept Alaska's full share of stimulus money. It's hard to understand why she's even toying with rejecting part of it.
BOTTOM LINE: Gov. Palin will hurt the state if she doesn't accept all the federal stimulus money.