Alaska: Palin freezes hiring, urges spending restraint

Governor Sarah Palin delivered her third State of the State address before the Alaska legislature Thursday night. She announced a hiring freeze for state jobs (exempting public safety) and restrictions on all non-essential state purchases, while urging the legislature to practice spending restraint:

“These actions reduce the draw on savings as we monitor revenue for the rest of 2009,” Palin said. “For too long, Alaska’s economy has struggled with fluctuating revenue due to global commodity prices. In a volatile economy, numbers are not fixed, but principles are.”

Despite the cost-cutting measures, the governor said that education should not be shortchanged:

“We’ll fully forward-fund all our school districts with more than a billion dollars – that’s more than 21 percent of General Fund expenditures. Education is that high a priority. We’ll focus on early learning, vo-tech and workforce development, an enhanced University, streamlined operations, we’ll hold schools accountable, and we’ll encourage opportunities for students with special needs.”

Gov. Palin also proposed that her health care reform should move forward immediately:

“Protecting good health is largely a matter of personal responsibility, but government policy can help. Our new Alaska Health Care Commission will recommend changes that affect the well-being of Alaskans far into the future.”

In her speech, Gov. Palin also addressed an issue about which she has received criticism, more so from national animal rights activists than from with within her own state. She reminded her audience that her administration managed Alaska’s wildlife “for abundance”:

Our biologists have protected game by eliminating predators from calving grounds and we’ll further protect herds, some of which are at precariously low levels of abundance – thus ultimately promoting the population growth of every species.

The governor had some words of criticism of her own for the federal government, saying that she will continue to fight “bureaucratic decrees” from Washington, D.C. on issues which she insists should be argued and decided by the congress:

As the largest and only Arctic state, we’re studying climate-change through our DEC-led subcabinet. And we’re suing the federal government for misusing the Endangered Species Act. There is an attempt there to use the ESA to impose environmental policies that should be debated and approved legislatively, not by court order or bureaucratic decree. Alaskans have shown through our protective laws that we’re willing and able to protect our magnificent wildlife, while developing our God-given resources, by using conservation laws as they were intended. We’ll challenge abuse of federal law when it’s used just to lock up Alaska.

Palin also had words for those who have charged that her administration promotes economic development in her state at the expense of its environment:

Vital projects now underway show how much science and technology have improved in a generation, greatly reducing risk to the environment. Continued work in Cook Inlet and on the North Slope, new drilling at Nikaitchug, new exploration inNPRA – these projects and more will be carried out with the safest methods. My administration has dramatically ramped up oversight. We demand the highest standards of stewardship and corporate responsibility, because we want to pass on this Alaska that we cherish to our children and grandchildren and beyond.

The governor said that her state’s gas pipeline project was essential to Alaska’s economic future and said her administration has commissioned preliminary construction of two roads essential to building the gas line. She also announced an initiative to help deal with the problems of high energy prices in her state:

“We’re facilitating a smaller, in-state gas line with legislation we’ll hand you next month. My goal for this in-state line is completion in five years. It will carry 460-million cubic feet of gas every day to energize Alaska.”

Gov. Palin called on small business owners to help her administration develop a plan to diversify the state’s economy so it will no longer be so dependent on oil and gas, two commodities which are subject to drastic price fluctuations.

The former vice presidential candidate referred to her experience on the campaign trail and its aftermath, and she asked Alaskans to work together for the good of the state, urging them not to let the sometimes intensive scrutiny of her by the national media distract or divide them:

I have confidence in Alaskans, in their judgment andgroundedness. Even more so after the journey I completed on November 4th. I learned more about fighting the good fight, facing long odds, the need to protect family – my own and our Alaska family – and putting Country First even when voters put you second. Not unlike Alaska’s journey.

When I took my oath of office to serve as your Governor, remember, I swore to steadfastly and doggedly guard the interests of this great state like a grizzly with cubs, as a mother naturally guards her own. Alaska, as a statewide family, we’ve got to fight for each other, not against and not let external, sensationalized distractions draw us off course.

Though her address was a serious discussion of the problems which her state faces and how she proposes to deal with them, there was a lighthearted moment early in the speech when Gov. Palin quipped:

“2008 was the year when America looked to Alaska, and one of our own sprang to national attention. There was political drama, controversy, lively debate, a few awkward moments and in the end, some disappointment. But what a glorious debut for a unique Alaskan – and we congratulate our former Senator Mike Gravel.”

The Alaska Daily News report on the governor’s address is here, full text of the speech is here, and the video of her full address is here.

– JP