Friday, April 4, 2008

Palin Signs Capitol Spending Bill, But Vetoes Majority of Projects

But Did She Really?

The AP's Anne Sutton reports:

Gov. Sarah Palin signed a hotly disputed state supplemental budget bill Thursday, using her line item veto pen to strike more than 80 percent of $70 million in capital projects that were inserted by lawmakers.

But it’s not all bad news for them. She’s recommending that most of those vetoed projects be funded in the 2009 capital budget instead, using this year’s surplus revenues from high oil prices. That’s a promise legislators are banking on.

“Overall I’m pretty pleased with it,” said House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. “It’s my understanding she approved the projects; she just wants them vetted in a different vehicle.”

Local members of the Republican Senate minority largely credited Palin for her approach.

“The minority was on board to have them all moved — if any of them were to remain,” said Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. “But I think the way she split it was fair.”

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, a former Senate Finance Committee co-chair, called the move a “reasonable approach.”

He said he’d never heard of any other governor doing it, but added, “We’ve never done capital in the supplemental, either.”

Capital projects have been included in the supplemental budget before, but not in the manner they were this year.

The supplemental budget bill became the battleground in recent weeks between lawmakers asserting their power of appropriation and the governor asserting her right to constrain and shape government spending.

Although the $4.3 billion budget contains significant items, such as $3.6 billion in savings, $18 million for senior benefits and $125 million in tax credits for oil and gas producers, it was capital projects that captured the most attention.

Palin left 52 projects worth $12.4 million in the bill, mostly for rural areas where she said timing was critical for barging in equipment and supplies for this year’s building season.

She is recommending that 155 projects totaling $35.4 million be added to the capital budget.

The remaining 16 projects totaling $22.3 million were vetoed outright.

“It’s time to move beyond the supplemental and work together in a cooperative manner to move Alaska forward,” Palin said.

The House Finance Committee begins work this week on the Senate’s version of the capital budget, which Palin roundly criticized, saying it lacked critical projects.

Now Palin must work with Meyer to see her own items, such as Dalton Highway repairs and deferred maintenance on state-owned facilities, reinserted. Meyer expects to work cooperatively.

“What we found out with the supplemental is that she is listening to us,” Meyer said. “I’m anticipating that we are going to be working closer with the governor as we put together the capital budget on the House side.”

Palin’s decision ends two weeks of meetings with individual lawmakers over the construction projects and equipment that were among the scores of community and school district priorities that she vetoed last summer, to the surprise and anger of lawmakers.

All but five legislators accepted her invitation to meet and explain why their districts’ projects should be included in a bill that is normally reserved for emergencies and cost overruns in the current fiscal year.

The exercise was invaluable, Palin said.

“My staff and I listened and learned a great deal about the many needs across the state. The needs are great and vary dramatically from one community to another,” Palin wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, announcing the bill’s signing.

Palin left $4 million in the budget for the design and construction of a public safety building in Nome and $1.3 million to extend electrical service to key airport safety equipment in Juneau. The bill also includes numerous school maintenance and water and sewer upgrades in rural villages as well as Anchorage traffic improvements.

Of the projects that were vetoed outright, four had already been completed while others had other funding sources available. A $10 million expansion of the Anchorage port was recommended for a bond package and $5 million for Palmer Wasilla Highway improvements was recommended for funding in the 2010 budget.

House lawmakers met with Palin in March in an unsuccessful effort to ward off another round of vetoes. House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, was disappointed when the talks fell through but is pleased with the final outcome.

“I think there are still difficulties, but this was very smart. The way the supplemental was worked through made sense,” Kerttula said. “I hope everybody comes out of their corners and starts working well with each other. We want to see a good working relationship on all levels.”

The Senate resisted invitations to negotiate with Palin about the supplemental budget.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the capital budget should ideally be crafted “so whomever the governor is has little or no need to use the veto, and they don’t use the veto pen as a de facto budget-writing vehicle.

“The more communication the governor has with the Legislature, which is the appropriating body, the better.”

The bill is Senate Bill 256.

Staff writer Stefan Milkowski and Associated Press writer Steve Quinn contributed to this report.

Gov. Sarah Palin has used her line item veto to strike two-thirds of the capital projects that lawmakers had earlier inserted into a spending bill for the current year.

She left 52 projects worth $12 million in the bill, mostly for rural areas where she said timing was critical for barging in equipment and supplies.

She is recommending that 155 projects totaling $35 million be added to next year's capital budget instead. Some Fairbanks-area projects also survived the cuts; others were set aside. See list below.

The remaining 16 projects totaling $22 million were vetoed outright. These were projects that she had vetoed last summer in the 2008 capital budget.

Palin's staff visited lawmakers' offices ahead of time to inform them of her decision.

The governor signed Senate Bill 256 into law on Thursday. The $4.3 billion supplemental budget bill also adds $3.6 billion to savings accounts and pays for revenue sharing and weatherization programs.

Fairbanks-area projects that survived the cuts include:

-$140,000 Weller Elementary water tanks

-$160,000 North Pole water treatment plant roof

Projects Palin wants moved to the capital budget:

-$500,000 Delta Junction street paving and lighting

-$360,000 J.P. Jones Community Development Center improvements

-$220,000 Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association shooting range

-$100,000 Tanana Valley Farmers Market upgrades

-$50,000 Cultural Heritage & Education Institute

-$32,000 Salcha Fair Association playground and fair building

-$25,000 Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association facilities

-$20,000 Fairbanks Downtown Association downtown upgrades

-$15,000 Tanana Valley State Fair Association

-$10,000 Fairbanks Youth Facility climbing wall

-$5,000 Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District noxious weed project