Palin is Back at Work.

5 12 2008

I looked at the Anchorage Daily News today, and my first thought was, “Hey, isn’t that the lady from TV?” Yes, indeed, Governor Sarah Palin is back in Alaska and it looks like she’s working!

After the national media descended on Alaska last summer, like ravens on a Wendy’s dumpster, many things were dragged out into the spotlight that otherwise might have lingered in Alaskan obscurity. I think of that bizarre phenomenon like a team of ten or twelve strangers coming into your house and emptying out your closets, taking inventory, and then writing about it.  You’d realize that maybe you had some strange stuff in there, that you had just gotten used to, and other stuff you didn’t even know was in there…but now that you look at it all in the light of day, through someone else’s eyes, you realize that maybe you should have been cleaning out your closets more often.  One of those things was the Palin administration’s record on health care for children and pregnant women.  The national media was not kind in its analysis of how Palin was caring for women and children, and many Alaskans had been furious about it for some time, and felt vindicated by the media analysis from outside the state.

Lawmakers have scrapped for years over Denali KidCare, which provides health insurance for lower income children and pregnant women. Palin last year opposed the push to increase coverage — even though the state was enjoying a huge surplus at the time from high oil prices. It’s one of dozens of policy calls that came under scrutiny as the governor became a national figure in the wake of her nomination this summer for vice president.

Palin, pressed on why she’s now changed her position, kept repeating that it is an opportunity for more children to be covered.

And, as usual, nobody is happy. Democrats think she hasn’t gone far enough, and Republicans think she’s gone too far. But Republicans will likely not stop it, and Democrats will take what they can get.

One of the good things that has come from Palin’s run for VP, is that Alaskans have been forced to look outside the bubble. Those who have felt that Palin’s policies and attitudes were not in alignment with their own, are now realizing that a lot of other Americans out there share their sentiments. It’s hard sometimes to remember that out there is a big wide world that isn’t Alaskan.

We were all expecting, with the price of oil dipping below $40/barrel yesterday, that the state budget was once again going to fall victim to Palin’s dreaded red pen. So this increase in an “entitlement program” in the face of plummeting oil prices, and the coming economic crunch, came as a bit of a surprise. I wonder how much her decisions in the next few years will be made in consideration of that world outside. She has plans for 2012, after all…

Palin will release the rest of her proposed state budget next week and said not to expect any significant cuts. She downplayed the danger falling oil prices pose to the state budget, saying Alaska is in a far better position than other states.

Palin claimed the state could still end up with a surplus even if oil averages $45 a barrel over the next several months.

David Teal, the state Legislature’s chief budget analyst, said that is possible for the current fiscal year that ends in June. But he has doubts. “Oil is falling pretty fast; we don’t know if we’re going to have a surplus or a deficit,” Teal said in an interview. Palin’s new spending plan, though, would start in the next fiscal year — when Alaska oil prices would have to average at least $20 a barrel more than now to balance the budget.

Welcome to the season of tight-rope walking, fiscal wrangling and hand-wringing as we try to pack all that stuff back in the closet.