Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin Loves Washington "Earmarks" supported Ketchikan ‘bridge to nowhere’ during 2006 race for Alaska governor

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

With another hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the so-called “bridge to nowhere,” championed by Alaska’s Congressional delegation on behalf of the people of Ketchikan, just won’t go away.

Three years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the plan to spend hundreds of millions to connect Ketchikan with its airport on Gravina Island became a national symbol of Congressional excess, much to the dismay of Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young.

Sen. John McCain has made it a habit to ridicule the bridge project during his presidential campaign.

McCain has promised to veto any bill sent to him by Congress with any earmarks. In July, the Associated Press reported that McCain wants to cut all earmarks and billions more to “punish lawmakers for past earmarks,” the AP said.

Stevens and Young have long argued that earmarks have been essential to the Alaska economy, funding everything from the Denali Commission to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

In her introductory speech Friday as McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin picked up on the Ketchikan bridge that was never built as a symbol of bad federal policy.

“I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress,” Palin said at her first campaign appearance. “In fact, I told Congress — I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, I said we’d build it ourselves.”

That is not how Palin described her position on the Gravina Island bridge when she ran for governor in 2006.

On Oct. 22, 2006, the Anchorage Daily News asked Palin and the other candidates, “Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?”

Her response: “Yes. I would like to see Alaska’s infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now — while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.”

Palin’s support of the earmark for the bridge was applauded by the late Lew Williams Jr., the retired Ketchikan Daily News publisher who wrote columns on the topic.

Williams wrote on Oct. 29, 2006, that Palin was the only gubernatorial candidate that year who consistently supported the Gravina Island Bridge, the Knik Arm Bridge and improvements to the Parks Highway.

Two months earlier, while campaigning in Ketchikan, Palin made a positive reference to the bridge, while also joking, as a resident of the Mat-Su Valley, about Sen. Ben Stevens’ slap at Mat-Su residents as “Valley trash.”

“OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing in the middle of nowhere,” Palin said on a stop in Ketchikan, a quote reprinted in the Juneau Empire Friday. “I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project.”

A year later, she issued a news release as governor saying Ketchikan needed better airport access, but a $398 million bridge was not going to happen.

“Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin said on Sept. 21, 2007.

The money was not sent back to the federal government, but spent on other projects.

That was hardly “Thanks but no thanks.”

In his statement announcing Palin as his running mate Friday, McCain said, “She put a stop to the “bridge to nowhere” that would have cost taxpayers $400 million.”

One of the immediate related questions for Alaska is whether Palin plans to change her position and accept McCain’s view that earmarks should be abolished and that any bill containing them should be vetoed.

This is significant because the state, along with dozens of local governments and nonprofit groups across Alaska, routinely asks Congress to fund everything from new buildings to docks and road work. The Alaska Railroad alone asked for about $80 million this year, while Nome wanted $13 million for wind generation, North Pole asked for nearly $7 million and the Fairbanks North Star Borough asked for about $25 million.

McCain has made his position clear.

“I will veto every bill with earmarks until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks on them. I will keep vetoing. I will make them famous. You will know their names, ” McCain said in a speech on April 15, according to video on his Web site. He also said, “I have a clear record of not asking for a single earmark for my state.”

Alaska has a clear record of seeking earmarks.

In March, Palin’s Washington, D.C., representative, John Katz, wrote a defense of earmarks, published in the Juneau Empire in which he said the state is cutting back on its wish list.

The Palin administration requested 31 earmarks this year totaling $200 million and “we are not abandoning earmarks altogether,” Katz said, as they are a “legitimate exercise of Congress’ constitutional power to amend the budget proposed by the president.”

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