PUBLISHED: 6:07 PM on Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Palin: Budget cuts a disservice to Alaskans
JUNEAU - Gov. Sarah Palin and key cabinet members criticized legislators last week for cutting funding to the state's budget for energy studies and emergency programs.

Palin reaffirmed her stance during an April 2 press conference at the capitol building that Alaska is in an energy crisis and said cutting $40 million from the Alaska Energy Authority will hinder plans to build the gas pipeline and bring energy to Alaskans. The senate passed a $1.8 billion budget earlier in the day which will be reviewed by the senate finance committee.

"We're all about energy for Alaskans and jobs for Alaskans and the actions taken by the senate today do not reflect that same commitment," she said. "If Alaskans knew what was going on in this building today they would be outraged."

Tom Irwin, commissioner for natural resources, said the funding cuts would prevent the state from evaluating natural resources on the North Slope as part of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA).

"We are pushing energy in this state," he said. "The number one issue for (the Department of Natural Resources) is ... reservoir studies to evaluate oil and gas resources. We need to know how to manage those. How can that ... not be passed by the senate? We don't want less knowledge than the companies we're working with."

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Gov. Sarah Palin, joined by Commissioner of Natural Resources Tom Irwin, addressed budget cuts to natural resource studies last week.
The budget cuts included funds to be used for airborne geological and geophysical surveys and a gas pipeline corridor geological resource hazard survey, Irwin said.

Cabinet members said cutting the funding would prevent Alaska from bringing energy to residents and creating jobs during construction of the pipeline. Construction of the pipeline could take more than a decade.

"This is a simple issue of treating our folks fairly and it hasn't even gotten out of the senate," Irwin said. "How is this leadership? I'm concerned. Let's

not play the games, let's do the business of Alaska."

Pat Galvin, commissioner of revenue, said legislative concerns spurred by "questioning if an in-state pipeline was the only answer" was meant to draw distraction from the budget cuts made by the senate.

"We can't afford to lose momentum," he said. "I hope the house will restore this budget whole."

Legislators held their own press conference earlier in the day calling for immediate attention by Palin to get cheaper natural fuels to Alaskan communities.

Galvin also said the gas pipeline appears to be the most economically feasible source of energy for Alaskans compared to alternative energy sources.

Irwin said no immediate decisions will be made regarding the gas pipeline but if funding is cut "the state's priorities will be hurt."

Irwin also criticized legislators for cuts to wild land fire truck replacements.

"We're drying out and we know it," he said, citing 12 woodland fires last year and having to bring emergency vehicles in from outside the state.

Funding also was cut to state park emergency repair and the Alaska Boating Safety program.

Palin said she will "shift the conversation" with legislators and discuss the big picture beyond just the budget to have projects funding restored.

On Friday Palin signed Senate Bill 256, the 2008 supplemental bill, into law. The supplemental totals $4.3 billion and includes $18.5 million for the Senior Benefits Program, $44.7 million for bargaining unit agreements, $300 million for energy conservation, $125 million for oil and gas tax credits, and $3.6 billion in savings in the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve and Statutory Budget Reserve funds.

"Alaska is blessed to have surplus revenues that we can save for the future when oil price and production declines," she said.

The bill also contained $70 million in capital projects that were vetoed last summer. Supplemental budgets are usually reserved for unforeseen expenses.