The Alaska Legislature voted Monday to override former Gov. Sarah Palin’s veto of $28 million in federal stimulus money for energy cost relief. But it was as close as a vote can get.
Reversing a governor’s appropriation veto requires a vote of 75 percent of the Legislature, a hurdle rarely met. The override passed 45 to 14 and if a single other legislator had voted against it or been absent from the special session, it would have failed.
Supporters argued Palin badly overstated the “strings” attached to taking the money, and that frigid Alaska could use the assistance.
“Instead of being the last state in the union to take this money we should have been the first,” said Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman. “We live in the coldest state in the union and we should be setting the standard in efficiencies and how energy is being used throughout this state.”
The Legislature also voted 55 to 4 on Monday to confirm Craig Campbell as the new lieutenant governor. Senate budget leaders took the opportunity of the one-day special session to attempt to override a few other Palin vetoes as well, but failed to attract enough support from their colleagues.
About 150 anti-stimulus protestors showed up to try and convince the Legislature not to override Palin’s stimulus veto. They rallied across the street from the Egan Center — with signs like “Fed $=Tyranny” and “Override=You’re fired.” Others urging legislators to override the veto mixed in with their own signs like “Efficiency Makes Cents.” There was arguing between the two camps and legislators had to walk a gauntlet through the protestors to get into the Egan Center, where the special session was being held.
PALIN: ‘CLEAR ROPES ATTACHED’
Palin vetoed the appropriation of $28 million in federal energy stimulus cash in May, two months before she resigned as governor.
She kept up her fight against the money by posting a message on her Facebook page Sunday.
“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. 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,” she wrote.
The U.S. Department of Energy disputes Palin’s characterization of what taking the money requires. The department said in a letter to Alaska lawmakers last week that the Legislature “does not need to adopt, impose and enforce a statewide building code in order to qualify” for the energy stimulus cash.
The letter said Alaska’s governor or Legislature can qualify for the money by assuring “that the state will encourage, promote and assist municipalities that choose to adopt their own energy-efficiency codes to achieve the goals … reduced energy consumption in public or private buildings.”
The new governor, Sean Parnell, supported Palin’s veto and after the vote thanked the legislators who opposed the override. But he also said he does not expect to have to now impose a building code, despite the claims by former Gov. Palin. Parnell’s explanation was that “the requirements have changed” for what Alaska needs to do to get the money.
Parnell wrote a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Monday formally accepting the money, telling Chu he was relying on the assurances the department made that no statewide building code was needed.
Parnell told reporters after the override vote that his initial focus for the money will be on making public buildings more energy efficient.
CAMPBELL VOTE FAR LESS CONTROVERSIAL
Legislators who voted against reversing Palin’s veto said the stimulus law requires the state to meet energy efficiency standards. They said they didn’t trust the Energy Department assurances that now statewide code was really going to be needed.
“Were getting conflicting messages from our so called friends in Washington D.C.,” said Anchorage Republican Rep. Bob Lynn. “I want to send a message to Nancy Pelosi and the other busybodies to keep your pea-pecking hands off of how we do things here in Alaska.”
Supporters of reversing Palin’s veto said the vast majority of Alaskans already live in places that have the energy efficiency requirements through their local governments.
They said it didn’t make sense not to accept aid to help Alaskans with the high costs of energy.
“I cannot think of a better thing we can do with this money,” said Palmer Republican Rep. Carl Gatto, who is usually a Palin supporter.
The confirmation of Campbell as lieutenant governor was far less controversial. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said he did have concerns after reading a 1993 news story in which Campbell was quoted as saying the city should have the ability to restrict gays from working in food preparation and health care because of the threat of AIDS.
But Gara said Campbell told him he doesn’t believe that at all and couldn’t recall if it was his position in 1993. Gara said he was satisfied.
Hoffman and Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, the co-chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee, on Monday tried to get their colleagues to also override Palin’s veto of improvements at the Anchorage courthouse as well four projects in Stedmans’ district that were to be funded with about $5 million from the state’s cruise ship tax.
But their effort only attracted the support of 40 legislators, five less than needed for an override.
Anchorage Daily News