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Spreading the Wealth to Sarah Palin's Alaska

March 24, 2009

Last week, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin joined the parade of 2012 Republican White House hopefuls posturing for GOP primary voters by refusing their states some of the $787 billion recovery package. Now facing a bipartisan firestorm at home from communities desperate for the stimulus spending, Palin is backtracking from her rejection of funds she mocked as "intended to just grow government." But whether she ultimately takes the money or not, Sarah Palin's Alaska will continue to rely on the kindness of strangers. As it turns out, whether in the form of Washington's annual budget, earmarks or the stimulus spending itself, American taxpayers are "spreading the wealth" to Palin's home state.
On Thursday, Governor Palin announced she would forego $288 million of the $931 million in stimulus dollars allocated to her state. In addition to turning down funds for energy assistance and social services, Palin rejected $172 million targeted for schools, including her pet cause, special needs education. But by Monday, Lt. Governor Sean Parnell suggested the federal gravy train had not yet left the station:

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell showed up to deliver Palin's message - that she's not necessarily "rejecting" the money, but wants a public debate on how it's spent and whether it would cost the state in the long run.
Among the questions: Is the governor's team trying to have it both ways - saying "no" to the money while leaving the door open to spending it?

And spend it they will. As the numbers show, when it comes to largesse from American taxpayers, Sarah Palin's Alaska believes it is better to receive than to give.
As a 2007 analysis of federal spending per tax dollar received by state shows, the reddest states generally reaped the most green. Eight of the top 10 beneficiaries of federal largesse voted for John McCain for President. Unsurprisingly, all 10 states at the bottom of the list - those whose outflow of tax revenue is funding programs elsewhere in the country - all voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
The data for Sarah Palin's Alaska is particularly telling. Back in the early 1980's, Alaska was a net contributor of tax revenue to the federal government in Washington, DC. But in recent years, the state has been the beneficiary of a massive geographic transfer of wealth from the Lower 48. By 2005, Alaska ranked third in feeding at the federal trough, taking in $1.84 from Washington for each dollar sent there. That performance puts Sarah Palin between fellow stimulus refuseniks Haley Barbour of Mississippi ($2.02 payback on each dollar) and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana ($1.78) atop the charts.
But when it comes to earmarks, the woman who mythically said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere almost always says, "yes." In the $410 billion omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress, Palin's Alaska led the nation in per capita earmark spending. Alaskans hauled in almost $210 per person in earmarks, while Californians got $16 and New Yorkers $13 in comparison.
And then there's the windfall from the stimulus bill itself. As a recent analysis in the Wall Street Journal ("After Voting No, Republicans Tout Funds") showed, Alaska was near the top of the list in several areas of ARRA spending. Alaska ranked #1 among the states in the per capita allocation of $72 billion in education funds contained in the stimulus bill. The state came in second as a per capita recipient of housing (HUD) funds, anti-crime spending and money for job training. For per person spending on water projects and health care, Alaska is third and 10th, respectively.
As I've noted before, none of the above is to suggest that there is anything untoward or inappropriate in the underwriting of red states by blue ones. On the contrary. After all, many of these Republican states are home both to key defense contractors and military bases which help ensure U.S. national security. Just as important, Americans nationwide want to provide the funding and resources for the education, health care and anti-poverty programs their red state brethren badly need - and deserve.
But for all her grandstanding, Sarah Palin is the queen of what she might otherwise call red state socialism. And in when it comes to the generosity of the American people, Sarah Palin has concluded that charity begins at home - in Alaska.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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