• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 40s

Begich addresses state lawmakers

By Rhonda McBride 9:39 PM March 3, 2014

Begich’s focus on education takes lawmakers by surprise

JUNEAU – Sen. Mark Begich downplayed partisanship during his sixth annual address to the state Legislature Monday.

He talked of the strong partnerships he has with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Congressman Don Young and Republican members of the Alaska delegation.

Begich also praised lawmakers for their help in winning money for federal programs — as well as sparing them from the budget ax. He also emphasized his ability to cross party lines to do what’s best for Alaska.

“For example I support a bill with Sen. Rand Paul on auditing the feds,” Begich said. “I’m the only Democrat on that bill, as I learned from my majority leader. It was a good conversation. I explained I’m from Alaska. He got it.”

Begich also said he’s also co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment for a balanced federal budget.

Many lawmakers had expected Begich to spend more time addressing a chronic issue in the Legislature  — what lawmakers claim are instances of federal overreach, in which the federal government usurps state authority.

The issue came to the forefront Friday when the Environmental Protection Agency put the state on notice that it may eventually block the Pebble Mine project to protect salmon in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The mine is on state land, and the EPA’s decision comes even before the state’s permitting process has begun.

Although Begich briefly touched on federal overreach, he didn’t mention the EPA decision at all in his speech — and lawmakers didn’t bring it up either during the Q&A period following Begich’s address.

Reporters did raise the issue at a news conference. Begich said he doesn’t think the EPA’s action would affect other Alaska mining projects. He also said he doesn’t believe this is a case of federal overreach at this point because the EPA is acting within the confines of the law.

What surprised lawmakers was Begich’s focus on education.

“To be blunt, I don’t agree with what’s happened in this building on education funding in recent years,” Begich said.

He compared it to building a fire in a woodstove but refusing to add enough wood.

“I know some of you will say there’s been enough wood for the fire,” Begich said.

Begich said the real question is whether the funding has kept pace with the ability of schools to do their jobs.

Begich also said he opposed a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be used to subsidize the costs of students enrolled in private schools.

“I believe strongly we should never amend the Alaska Constitution as a fix for education,” Begich told lawmakers. “Public dollars are for public education. Period.”

Begich’s son, Jacob, a sixth grader, attends a private school in Washington, D.C. Begich said this doesn’t change his feelings about spending state money on private schools.

“I’m not asking for public money to pay for Jacob’s school. That’s the difference. OK. I’m paying for it,” said Begich, who also noted that prior to his family’s move to Washington, D.C., his son attended public school.

Begich said the state needs to make sure young Alaskans are prepared to make the most of the opportunities ahead in the 21st century economy.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, a Republican from Eagle River, told Begich cutbacks in federal funding are part of the problem and the Anchorage School District lost $45 million in federal money.

Some Republicans questioned Begich’s focus on state education funding.

“I thought it was fascinating,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican who also serves on the Senate Education Committee. “That’s our job, and in the next breath, he’s talking about the battle over federal overreach.”

Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat and educator, said she had no problems with Begich’s discussion of state education funding.

“We heard Senator Murkowski call for paying teachers more and loan forgiveness,” Tarr said. “I think we can look to both of them as experienced policymakers and good ideas can come from anywhere.”

But late in the afternoon, House Speaker Mike Chenault slammed Begich in a press release for what he called a “Beltway-style” speech.

In the statement, Chenault said, “Instead, what Alaskans heard today was more spin from Sen. Begich, and few solutions.”

Latest Stories

  • News

    Memorial Day a weekend-long affair for Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club

    by Heather Hintze on May 29, 19:41

    For members of the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club, Memorial Day isn’t just a Monday off from work; it’s a weekend-long celebration to remember the fallen. On Sunday, hundreds of bikers from around the state met at Mary’s McKinley View Lodge then road the Parks Highway to the Alaska Veterans Memorial. They’ve been doing the Byers […]

  • Sports

    Sports writer loses job over tweet on Japanese Indy winner

    by Associated Press on May 29, 16:52

    DENVER (AP) – A veteran sports writer is no longer working with The Denver Post after he posted on Twitter that he was “uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend.” Terry Frei sent the tweet after Takuma Sato on Sunday became the first Japanese driver to win the race. […]

  • News

    First cruise ship of the summer docks at Port of Anchorage

    by Lauren Maxwell on May 29, 16:42

    The first cruise ship to dock at the Port of Anchorage this summer pulled into town early Monday morning. Nearly 1,400 passengers disembarked from Holland America’s ‘Amsterdam’ to check out the sights before an 11 p.m. call to be back on the ship. Julie Saupe, president of Visit Anchorage, said the cruise industry in the […]

  • News

    Volunteers place markers in Anchorage cemetery to honor fallen soldiers

    by Dave Leval on May 29, 15:43

    Wenda Sudduth and others from American Legion Post 1 found the going not so easy at Anchorage’s Memorial Park Cemetery. They went on a quest Sunday to pay tribute some of our nation’s most honored dead. They placed religious markers at the grave sites of those who served in the nation’s military. “I come from a […]

  • News

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says Denali name should remain

    by Associated Press on May 29, 10:58

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the name for America’s tallest mountain should remain Denali. The News-Miner reports that he spoke at the Fairbanks International Airport late Saturday on his way to a Memorial Day ceremony in Denali State Park. The peak was once called Mount McKinley, named after President William McKinley. […]

  • Police: Tiger Woods arrested in Florida for DUI

    by Associated Press on May 29, 10:52

    JUPITER, Fla. (AP) – Tiger Woods says an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine led to his arrest on a DUI charge in Florida. Woods spent nearly four hours in the Palm Beach County Jail after being arrested early Monday on suspicion of DUI. The 14-time major champion says in a statement that alcohol wasn’t involved. […]

  • News

    Interior Secretary Zinke focuses on energy, parks during Alaska visit

    by Heather Hintze on May 29, 10:29

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is in Alaska for his first visit to the state since his confirmation to the position in March. His first public appearance included a ride to the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial on the George Parks Highway with the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club for their 29th annual Memorial Run. “I think it’s important on […]

  • News

    North Korea launches short-range ballistic missile, U.S. military says

    by CBS News on May 28, 19:06

    North Korea on Sunday launched a short-range ballistic missile, the U.S. Pacific Command said. The missile was tracked for six minutes until it landed in the Sea of Japan, the U.S. Pacific Command said. The White House said President Trump had been briefed on the launch. This is the ninth missile test North Korea has […]