Gov. Sarah Palin will accept most of the federal stimulus funds available to the state, her spokeswoman said Tuesday. Palin initially said she would accept only about two-thirds of the $930 million available to Alaska, but spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Palin changed her mind after the public weighed in during legislative hearings prior to lawmakers passing bills to seek almost all funding.
Among the stimulus funds Palin has directed her agencies to seek are $264 million for transportation projects, $130 million for Medicaid and $171 million for education.
"I thank legislators for their work on the federal economic stimulus package and the public for participating in the process," Palin said in a statement.
"The Legislature has accepted these stimulus dollars, and my agencies will make appropriate applications for funding. As we move forward, we must continue to exercise fiscal responsibility and prudent planning to develop our resources and build a stronger Alaska, and not assume federal dollars will continue to pay so many of Alaska's bills," Palin said.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, was pleased that money for education won't be cut.
"I think we'll find out over time that the money will be put to good use across the state, not only by the education department but the other departments that will be expending these funds," Chenault told The Associated Press.
If Alaska doesn't apply for the funds, it would be a lost opportunity, said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage.
"The money is needed, and if we didn't take it, frankly, it was going to go to other states that would have lined up to take our share," Gara said.
Palin had initially warned about the state having to finance programs and projects created by the stimulus funds after the federal money runs out. She earlier called the stimulus package "an unsustainable, debt-ridden package of funds."
Alaska's Legislature conducted more than 20 public hearings on the federal stimulus package, and legislative leaders said they couldn't find any of the strings attached to the funds that Palin had warned about.
"The Legislature then had to come in and find out through a lot of research that simply wasn't true," Gara said of Palin's argument.
Chenault said that perhaps the work of the Legislature in investigating each of the federal programs' guidelines helped Palin's decision.
"Hopefully that made the governor's decision easier as far as accepting those funds," he said.
Lawmakers passed bills accepting nearly all the funds before adjourning April 19, but Palin has veto power.
Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the message earlier this year that Palin was going to reject stimulus funds was misconstrued.
"She's never said she's rejecting anything. She's been consistent we need to hear from the public, thus the legislative hearings," Leighow said.
The only funds Palin will reject, Leighow said, will be nearly $29 million for a State Energy Program she says is tied to adopting a statewide energy code.
Alaska's vast expanse and wide-ranging conditions are not conducive to such an energy code, Palin said.
Deborah Williams with Alaska Conservation Solutions hopes Palin's decision on the energy program isn't set in stone.
"She has not yet actually vetoed this provision, and so we sincerely hope she will reconsider given the importance of this money to advance state energy efficiency and renewable energy programs," Williams said.
Leighow anticipates the legislative bills covering the stimulus will be sent to Palin by early next week. She will have 20 business days to sign or veto them.