Palin's vetoes shouldn't be end of worthy projects

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2007

Each stroke of Gov. Sarah Palin's veto pen crossing out an item in the state's capital budget brought a cry of protest from somewhere in the state.

Municipalities, community organizations, service providers, clubs and other groups let out a wail as their hands outstretched for state cash were slapped back by Palin's pen.

Few seem inclined to consider whether their hand should have been out in the first place. The most common response among organizations that were denied funding has been to scan the list of those that weren't axed and wonder why their project got cut and someone else's didn't.

On the Kenai Peninsula, the chorus of mourning was for $19.8 million that had been approved by the legislature but was shot down by the governor.

The biggest-ticket item was $12.5 million from the Railbelt Energy Fund that was to have been used by Homer Electric Association to augment and upgrade transmission facilities on the northern Kenai Peninsula. Another high-dollar project to be put off for a future budget was $3.5 million to purchase and build a boat launch on the lower Kasilof River.

Other projects ran the gamut from roof repairs to new signs, playground renovations to hospital diagnostic equipment. Many had nothing to do with public health, safety or infrastructure. But they had everything to do with improving the quality of life in the peninsula's communities.

Some examples:

Kachemak Bay Equestrian Association, $30,000 for Cottonwood Horse Park improvements; Kachemak Ski Club, $89,000 for Ohlson Mountain ski hill improvements; Kenai Kennel Club, $25,000 for emergency center construction; Sterling Community Club, $300,000 for a community center; Voznesenka Village Corporation, $25,000 for playground improvements; Funny River, $135,000 for a covered multi-use facility; and Seward, $195,000 for a waterfront pavilion.

Palin's reason for vetoing funding for these, and the majority of other peninsula projects cut, is they are not a state responsibility. She's right, they're not. But that doesn't mean they're not worthwhile, and it certainly doesn't mean they aren't important to the groups that proposed them.

It would be nice if the state could provide for every community's or organization's needs and desires, but money doesn't grow on trees. And gone are the days when it gushed freely and seemingly without end down the oil pipeline.

But just because we now have a governor out to reign in unchecked spending doesn't mean her veto pen dealt mortal blows.

This is Alaska, after all. Our history includes boom days of gold rushes and oil strikes where entire cities sprang up nearly overnight off the rapid influx of resource wealth. But those prospectors, oil patch workers and all our homesteaders and other pioneers also knew what it was like to do for themselves. If they wanted a community center, they pulled together and built it. If the town's kids needed new playground equipment, it wouldn't even have occurred to parents to expect the state to provide it.

Times have changed, of course. The government is a much more prevalent part of Alaskans' lives, sometimes to our benefit and other times to our annoyance. But the spirit of doing for ourselves hasn't changed.

The Kenai Peninsula in particular proves that time and again. When a family needs help with medical bills for a child fighting cancer, friends, neighbors, coworkers and even complete strangers pitch in on bake sales, auctions, raffles and whatever else it takes to meet those family's needs.

School kids participate in sports thanks to the work of booster clubs; poverty-stricken families at Christmas have presents and a holiday meal because of donations and the work of church organization; and fire victims often find shelter over their heads and clothes on their backs courtesy of their communities.

The Kenai Peninsula United Way is a perfect example of meeting our own needs. The charitable clearinghouse provides funding for 26 member organizations every year with money raised right here on the peninsula. This year alone the organization raised a new record of $800,000, far exceeding its goal of $600,000.

If we can do that, we can certainly build a community center or pitch in on a worthy organization's roof repairs.

It's fine to extend your hands and ask for state assistance, but if they come back empty, don't throw them up in despair.

Instead, use them to roll up your sleeves.

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