• 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

    Eagle River residents discuss proposed marijuana ordinances

    by Eric Ruble on Feb 06, 18:08

      ANCHORAGE — On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will be voting on ordinances outlining the zoning and licensing codes marijuana businesses will have to follow. Given the complexity of the issue, Assembly member Amy Demboski hosted a town hall in Eagle River on Saturday to discuss the topic with her constituents. In 2014, most voters […]

  • News

    Seoul: North Korea fires rocket seen as covert missile test

    by Associated Press on Feb 06, 17:58

    North Korea on Sunday defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. The rocket was fired from North Korea’s west coast and tracked separately by the governments Japan and South Korea, which immediately convened […]

  • News

    40 years later: AFD officials honor the memory of fireman killed in fire

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 06, 17:38

      ANCHORAGE — On Feb. 6, 1976, a fire broke out at the Bi-Lo Supermarket on Muldoon Road just after midnight. Anchorage Fire Department Engine 6 was the first unit to arrive at the scene and included 23-year-old firefighter Charles “Chuck” Whitethorn, according to AFD. The fire was upgraded and other fire teams from AFD […]

  • News

    Bethel businesses submit new round of liquor license applications

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK on Feb 06, 13:41

    This story originates from KYUK Public Media and was published with permission.  BETHEL — The Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is considering two liquor license applications for Bethel next week: one for a package liquor store for Bethel Native Corporation’s subsidiary Bethel Spirits LLC and another for Fili’s Pizza restaurant. BNC has reapplied for a license but at a […]

  • Crime

    Former tribal chief sentenced for embezzling over $100,000

    by Associated Press on Feb 06, 13:21

    A former Healy Lake Tribe first chief and administrator will spend up to 90 days on house arrest as part of her sentence for embezzling more than $100,000 in federal and tribal funds. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Friday that JoAnn Polston has also been sentenced to three years of probation. She was ordered to […]

  • Crime

    Fairbanks man convicted of 3 charges in murder-for-hire case

    by Associated Press on Feb 06, 13:08

    A former Fairbanks chiropractor will be sentenced in May in a murder-for-hire case. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Guy Christopher Mannino was found guilty by a federal jury Friday of three out of five counts. Prosecutors say Mannino tried to hire his jailhouse friend Julius “J.T.” Chambers to kill a witness, an FBI agent and […]

  • Politics

    Marijuana meeting, scholarship bill things to know about

    by Associated Press on Feb 06, 10:02

    The director of the board tasked with regulating Alaska’s legal pot industry is hopeful that state lawmakers will address concerns regarding criminal background checks for marijuana business applicants. The board meets Thursday with the date to begin accepting applications drawing closer. Heath Hilyard, an aide to Rep. Cathy Tilton, says a marijuana bill that failed […]

  • Sports

    PHOTOS: KTVA at Super Bowl 50

    by KTVA Sports on Feb 06, 9:36

    KTVA’s Dave Goldman and Jake Edmonds are in Santa Clara, California for Super Bowl 50. See the sights leading up to the big game. Photos courtesy: Rick Boots