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ALASKA

Alaska

State Recovery Act Website: http://www.alaska.gov/recovery

Alaska's state Recovery Act website scored 15 out of 100 possible points (ranking 34th) on Good Jobs First's 51-state study of state stimulus websites entitled Show Us the Stimulus. The state earned a lower than average score by only detailing allocations by program. Some data were available on linked agency websites, but navigating to them was not clear. Contractor information: none.

Alaska scored higher-35 out of 100 (ranking 29th)-on its disclosure of information specifically about highway projects funded by the Recovery Act.  The state's transportation data score was boosted by a map showing the location of each project, a brief description of the project, provision of contractors' names and award amounts, and indication that the data were less than a month old. Contractor information: available here.

For detailed scoring information, see the Alaska appendix of Show Us the Stimulus.

Coordination & Oversight

Alaska's Office of Management and Budget will be working with the Governor and the legislature to direct stimulus funds. Karen Rehfeld currently directs the OMB. She previously served as Deputy Commissioner of Education and Early Childhood Development. Both the Alaska House and Senate finance committees have been holding regular hearings on the stimulus.

Alaska's legislature has teamed up with the Alaska Federal Executive Association and the Denali Commission to create a temporary ARRA resource called the Alaskan Clearinghouse. The project began March 27, and should be completed within a six-month period unless continuation is dictated by further need.

Republican State Senator Lesil McGuire introduced legislation in late February to create an Alaska Economic Stimulus, Stability and Job Security Task Force comprised of three members each from the senate and house as well as two representatives from the Governor's office and one from the Alaska Municipal League. If the bill is passed, the Task Force will be responsible for preparing assessments, identifying potential stimulus fund recipients, and making recommendations to the legislature regarding stimulus implementation. Senate Bill 130 is currently under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.

Policy Debates

Gov. Palin gained a lot of attention, and drew a lot of heat, for stating early on that she would refuse a large percentage of the stimulus funds. Her objections centered on money for education, energy, and social services. She objected to the possibility that the state would have to pay to continue the programs after the stimulus funding came to an end. She has also argued that the stimulus will grow government, not the economy.

Gov. Palin then agreed to accept $930 million in stimulus funds for education but proposed the legislature remove an equal amount of money from the state's education fund to be used to pay down state debt. Because of this action she was accused of depriving school districts of a chance to improve education quality and thus violating one of the purposes of ARRA. Senate Finance Committee co-Chairman Bert Stedman criticized Palin's plan to backfill the state budget. "The stimulus is just that. It's a stimulus, not a supplanting, concept coming out of Washington," said Stedman. Critics, including Democratic state legislators, have spoken out against Palin's plan as a way for her to gain support from conservatives outside Alaska to build on her national political career instead of focusing on issues within her state.

In response to the governor's initial refusal to accept most stimulus funds, the state legislature almost unanimously passed bills and resolutions to accept all stimulus funds.

On May 21, Gov. Palin vetoed legislation to accept $28.6 million allotted for State Energy Programs. Palin is the only governor to refuse these funds intended to promote energy efficiency and provide energy cost relief. She expressed fear that accepting that money would force state municipalities to adopt building codes in order to achieve energy efficiency goals. Palin's move has brought criticism from both sides of the aisle. The Anchorage Daily News quoted Republican Rep. Mike Hawker as saying: "We've researched this thoroughly, and the governor's folks now have received a letter from the [U.S. Department of Energy] basically saying that you don't have to come up with all these building codes." Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska charged that the governor's "notion about some onerous federal mandate seems to be little more than a political red herring targeted at an agenda other than Alaska's."

State Senators Lesil McGuire (R) and Bill Wielechowski (D), co-chairs of the Senate Resources Committee, have written letters to the Governor in an effort to encourage her to accept the energy funds. In a press release from May 12 McGuire states: "I appreciate the Governor's reluctance to accept federal funding if there are costly and burdensome strings attached, but we have taken a closer look at our communities and found that we already meet or are near meeting the energy program requirements. There's little reason to decline millions in funding that could help curb energy costs in Alaska, the state with the highest energy costs in the nation." Others such as Caitlin Higgins of the Alaska Conservation Alliance/Alaska Conservation Voters and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho have pointed out that many of Alaska's cities have already adopted energy efficient building codes. These include Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome, Petersburg, Palmer, Seward, Valdez and Skagway. Additional cities are already in the process of adopting such standards.

Palin's opposition to accepting federal stimulus funds for unemployment centers on her reluctance to see any changes to state labor laws that could lead to future UI tax increases for businesses when the stimulus funds run out in two years. However, after legislation to expand unemployment passed both the state house and senate, Gov. Palin announced plans to apply for $15.6 million in federal stimulus funds for unemployment. Senate Bill 170 was signed into law on May 28th, 2009.

On August 5th, 2009, suspicions raised about whether energy funds required an updated building code were put to rest by the DOE in a formal announcement. On August 10th, 2009, a special legislative session overrode former Gov. Palin's stimulus veto with the 75 percent majority needed and approved $28 million for energy cost relief.

Last updated on: 25 August, 2009

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