Although Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has thus far refused to release her family’s financial records until AFTER the only vice presidential debate Thursday night, the International Herald Tribune published an extremely detailed estimate of Gov. Palin’s assets on October 1, 2008. Written by Sharon Theimer and Rita Beamish, the many assets of the governor are enumerated, revealing a very different picture than that of most financial strapped working class Americans, as Gov. Palin has recently been painting herself with comments of her Joe Six-Pack life.
WASILLA, Alaska: Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her husband have pieced together a uniquely Alaskan income that reached comfortably into six figures even before she became governor, capitalizing on valuable fishing rights, a series of land deals and a patchwork of other ventures to build an above-average lifestyle.
Add up the couple’s 2007 income and the estimated value of their property and investments and they appear to be worth at least $1.2 million. That would make the Palins, like Democratic vice presidential rival Joe Biden and his wife Jill, well-off but not nearly as wealthy as multimillionaire couples John and Cindy McCain and, to a lesser extent, Barack and Michelle Obama.
One measure of financial health: While there is a home loan, Palin reported no personal credit card debt on her most recent financial report as Alaska governor. That compares to average household credit card debt among Americans of $9,840 last year.
A more complete picture will come when Sarah Palin outlines her personal finances in federal paperwork in coming days. It will include details of any mortgage debt and at least rough dollar totals for bank accounts and investments.
Palin this week characterized herself as “an everyday, working-class American” who knows how it feels when the stock market takes a hit.
The Palins’ total income last year was split almost evenly between Sarah Palin’s white-collar job and her husband’s blue-collar work. Sarah Palin’s salary as governor was $125,000; Todd Palin took in $46,790 as a part-time oil production operator for BP Alaska in Prudhoe Bay, plus $46,265 in commercial fishing income and $10,500 in Iron Dog snowmachine race winnings. These figures do not include nearly $17,000 in per diem payments Palin received for 312 nights spent in her own home since she was elected governor; she also has received $43,490 to cover travel costs for her husband and children.
In addition, each member of the Palin family received $1,654 in state oil royalties paid to all Alaskans.
The Palins’ assets seem enviable: a half-million-dollar home on a lake with a float-plane at the dock, two vacation retreats, commercial-fishing rights worth an estimated $50,000 or more and an income last year of at least $230,000. That compares to a median income of $64,333 for Alaskans and $50,740 for Americans in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.
But in Alaska, scarce roads make private planes commonplace, it’s typical to spend a month or two fishing commercially, and wilderness acreage is so plentiful the state has sold loads’ worth stake-your-claim style. So, it’s often the finer points that matter: How old is the airplane? Where exactly is the fishing spot? Is the house on a paved road?
The Palins’ main residence, a large two-story house on Lake Lucille in Wasilla, draws much of its value from its prime position along a paved road and float-plane accessible lake, said Darcie Salmon, a local real estate agent. He said lakefront land is plentiful in Alaska, but lakefront land along paved roads is not.
The Palins’ home, tucked behind a wooded field, is off Wasilla’s main road, Parks Highway, a mostly four-lane road cluttered with restaurants, bars, retail stores, offices, grocery stores and big-box outlets such as Target. A store-bought “no trespassing” sign is posted near the entry to an unmarked, private gravel drive that winds about 100 yards to the lakefront home.
The Palins’ four-bedroom, four-bath house, nearly 3,500 square feet (325 square meters), sits on just over two acres (0.8 hectares) behind a tall wood-plank privacy fence that runs along one side of the property. It’s one of the newest homes in the Snider subdivision lining Lake Lucille and is assessed at $552,000.
Todd Palin built the house with friends who were contractors, he said in a recent television interview.
The house is worth substantially more than the Palins’ starter home, a three-bedroom, two-bath house house built in 1984 on the far western boundary of Wasilla.
In addition to the Lake Lucille home, the Palins own recreational property in two remote areas accessible by plane, all-terrain vehicle or snowmachine.
The Palins own snowmachines and an airplane. Todd Palin has a 1958 Piper float plane that he said has been in his family for about 20 years.
Though old, such planes remain in wide use. Palin’s plane would be worth from about $38,000 to $78,000 depending on its condition, said Boyd Newman, owner of West One Aircraft Sales in Caldwell, Idaho.
Other family assets include Todd Palin’s shoreside lease and commercial fishing permit to harvest salmon from Bristol Bay each season. Last year, the Palins took in $46,265 commercial fishing for sockeye salmon over about a month.
Todd Palin’s permit is worth about $30,000, a shoreside lease on Coffee Point, where Palin’s set-net site is located, is worth about $20,000, and Palin’s skiff and gear are likely worth another $20,000, according to estimates by Paul Piercey, a broker with Dock Street Brokers in Seattle, which handles sales of fishing permits, boats and shoreside leases.
Palin’s fishing spot is considered good but not great, Piercey said. And the work is backbreaking. Palin has said he expects to earn 68 cents per pound for this summer’s catch.
Todd Palin is also still a BP employee. Company spokesman Steve Rinehart declined to describe Palin’s status beyond confirming his employment. Palin’s schedule is one week on, one week off, Palin said in a recent television interview.
Palin previously left BP in the 1990s to run Valley Polaris, a snowmachine, four-wheeler and watercraft dealership he pursued with a friend and business partner. They sold the business in 1997; public records do not show whether it was at a profit or a loss. At the time, Sarah Palin was earning about $61,000 a year as Wasilla mayor.
The Palins sold nearly five acres of undeveloped waterfront property on the northeast shore of Wasilla Lake in 2005 to a local developer. The sales price was not disclosed. The land now is subdivided into five parcels, with two waterfront lots, two others behind those, and a commercial lot. Duane Mathes, a local real estate agent showing the property for the owner who bought it from the Palins, said the leveled lots are listed for $149,500 each.
Salmon, who was mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough that includes Wasilla while Palin was Wasilla mayor, recalled that as mayor, Sarah Palin shared many of his pro-development views, and said the Palins’ land acquisitions were not unusual.
“A lot of Alaskans own a lot of land,” Salmon said, “and if you’re bright, you buy land in the path of progress.”