• 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

    Don Young apologizes for suicide comments at AFN

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 24, 12:19

    Rep. Don Young, who recently came under fire for his comments about suicide at a Wasilla high school earlier this week, publicly apologized at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention Friday. In a speech, Young said he gives the issues of suicide and mental illness “a high priority,” listing his co-sponorship of the Mental Health […]

  • News

    Lanterns with positive message surprise drivers, air traffic controllers

    by Hope Miller on Oct 24, 11:48

    Paper lanterns were launched into the sky in East Anchorage Thursday night with a message of hope for victims of domestic violence. The lanterns, however, came as a surprise to some in the area, causing officials to briefly reroute airplane traffic at Merrill Field. “Shed the Light” is an event aimed at starting the conversation […]

  • On-Air

    Mic Check in Morning: East High School Ukulele Society for Better Living

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 24, 10:19

    A group of students at an Anchorage high school is inspiring others through the sound of music. The East High School Ukulele Society for Better Living performed live for Daybreak’s Mic Check in the Morning.

  • On-Air

    Get Out: Putters Wild

    by Brett Shepard on Oct 24, 9:23

    Last week I went disc golfing out at Kincaid Park. This week I’m back to a more traditional style of golf and I’ve brought a friend along. Janessa Webb joined me for this Get Out and we challenged each other to a friendly game of golf. “Here we have 18 holes of blacklight mini golf. There’s […]

  • News

    Seismologists study earthquakes near Minto

    by Associated Press on Oct 24, 9:06

    The Alaska state seismologist says big things may be coming from faults near the village of Minto about 50 miles west of Fairbanks. The third earthquake of at least magnitude 5.0 since Aug. 30 rocked the area Thursday. State seismologist Michael West tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the area has become “very vigorous” and faults […]

  • Weather

    Daybreak weather, Oct. 24

    by KTVA Weather on Oct 24, 8:40

    Friday brings a little more cloud coverage along with light rain and snow by afternoon. Clouds will start to fade away as we head into Saturday afternoon with Sunday being the day where sunshine will shine bright. Highs today will be in the upper-30s to low-40s with light winds. A storm system out of the […]

  • News

    End the cycle of violence a key message at AFN

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 24, 8:21

    Violence affects all communities across Alaska in many different ways. It’s often hard to talk about. The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention is one place where people aren’t shying away from the topic. “Be the one to pull your family together and make them stronger. If you are in a bad situation, make it better. […]

  • News

    FBI investigated Guard while Sullivan was attorney general

    by Kate McPherson on Oct 24, 7:36

    Gov. Sean Parnell says he met with Alaska National Guard Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus 41 times over a four-year period beginning in 2010 to discuss allegations of sexual assault, fraud and other serious problems within the AKNG. At the time of some of the meetings, Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan was the state’s attorney general, […]