In a final spat with former Gov. Sarah Palin, the Alaska Legislature voted Monday to override her veto of $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds intended for energy efficiency projects.
Palin, who resigned July 26 with 17 months left in her term, had vetoed the money that the state can use for almost anything that will reduce energy costs, from retrofitting public buildings and homes to energy efficiency audits, lighting upgrades and public transit.
Palin cited "strings" that could bind the state to federal codes for constructing buildings. She also said it would increase the size of government. She reiterated those claims Sunday in a Facebook posting.
"As governor, I did my utmost to warn our legislators that accepting stimulus funds will further tie Alaska to the federal government and chip away at Alaska's right to chart its own course," she wrote. "Enforcing the federal building code requirements, which Governor Parnell and future governors will be forced to adopt in order to accept these energy funds, will eventually cost the state more than it receives. There are clear ropes attached."
Lawmakers barely met the three-fourths majority threshold needed for the override, voting 45-14 to accept the money for the state, which holds much of the nation's hydrocarbon wealth but also experiences its highest energy costs.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said residents of rural communities were crying out for relief. He heard from some of them in a trip to Tanana, a Yukon River town of 250, where high energy costs were exacerbated this spring by flooding that damaged homes and businesses.
"We heard tearful pleas for help in that community," he said.
Some in rural Alaska pay 10 times the cost of electricity in Anchorage, Wielechowski said, adding that weatherization money also has helped his east Anchorage neighborhood.
"Ninety-two percent of Alaskans already live in communities where the international building code is required," he said, ticking off names of the state's major cities. The only requirement attached to taking the stimulus funds, he said, is spending the money responsibly.
Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said the money would go directly to Alaskans, unlike federal stimulus or bailout money aimed at lending companies and other businesses. Every dollar saved on heating, he said, could be used for groceries, health care or gasoline.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he heard a lot of philosophy about not wanting federal imposition of an energy code but no comments about their downside. He wondered why anyone would object to a requirement for double-pane windows or winter-grade insulation.
"They make the money back within three to four years," he said.
Other legislators, however, echoed Palin's warning of a federal government encroaching on states' rights.
"Where the federal government 'encourages' the state to do something, we are looking down the barrel of a budget shotgun, and that encouragement becomes a mandate," said Sen. Con Bundy, R-Anchorage.
Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said the entire stimulus package was ill-conceived. Legislators were given the choice of spending other people's money on good things, he said, while committing their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to trillions in debt.
Responding to Dyson, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, held up a dime and said it represented the cost to other Americans.
"That's what we're asking the people of the United States to contribute to our energy problems. I think it's a fair ask and they can afford it," he said.
Gov. Sean Parnell announced Monday he had sent a letter to the federal government saying the state will accept the federal stimulus money that Palin vetoed. Parnell said he wants to use the money to reduce energy costs for public facilities and to support ongoing programs.
Also Monday, Craig Campbell, former commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, was sworn in as Alaska's lieutenant governor after being approved by the Legislature.
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