• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: Latest updates on McHugh Creek Fire - Read More
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

    Deadly bombing strikes demonstration in Kabul

    by CBS/AP on Jul 23, 17:39

    At least 80 people were killed and another 231 wounded in the Afghan capital on Saturday, when suicide bombers detonated their explosives-packed clothing among a large crowd of demonstrators, officials and witnesses said. In a statement issued by its news agency, Aamaq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack […]

  • News

    Firefighters on McHugh Creek Fire confident with progress

    by Eric Ruble on Jul 23, 17:27

    After nearly half an inch of rainfall, sunshine returned to the area of the McHugh Creek Fire Saturday. It remains roughly 815 acres in size, but is now 15 percent contained, according to officials. It was seven percent contained Friday. More than 300 firefighters have been working on the McHugh Creek Fire. Many of them […]

  • News

    Woman drove for days in Alaska with husband’s body in casket

    by Associated Press on Jul 23, 15:18

    A woman who drove her husband’s body on a days-long traveling wake in Alaska and used ice from canneries to keep him cold is not accused of breaking any laws. Officers responded to a call last week to find the body of a 78-year-old man inside an aluminum transport casket. Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard […]

  • News

    Police: Bicyclist injured in crash with vehicle

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 23, 13:35

    Updated at 3:25 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 A bicyclist was injured and transported to a nearby hospital after a collision with a vehicle Saturday afternoon. The incident was reported to police at the intersection of Eagle Street and 23rd Avenue around 12:48 p.m., according to an Anchorage dispatcher. The driver remained at the scene of the […]

  • News

    McHugh Creek Fire: Positive prognosis from fire official

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 23, 11:23

    [RELATED: Updates: McHugh Creek Fire 7 percent contained at 815 acres] Last updated at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 The McHugh Creek Fire was 15 percent contained as of Saturday morning, incident commander Tom Kurth said at a Saturday morning community meeting. Roughly 330 firefighting personnel were battling the blaze, which was holding at 815 […]

  • News

    Silver Alert: Missing Kenai man believed to be in danger

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 23, 10:17

    Last updated at 11:50 a.m. on Saturday, July 23 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Public Safety and the Alaska Division of Homeland Security have initiated a Silver Alert for a missing 81-year-old man, who is believed to be in danger. The Kenai Police Department reported Oscar Rookard was last seen at his residence at […]

  • Lifestyle

    State health officials investigate salmonella illnesses in Bethel area

    by Charles Enoch / KYUK on Jul 23, 9:50

    This story originated from KYUK Public Media and was republished with permission BETHEL — The Alaska Division of Public Health is investigating salmonella infections in the Bethel area. A team is in Bethel to track down the source of the infection. Louisa Castrodale is an epidemiologist with the state’s Public Health division. “It’s not even the end […]

  • News

    Alasks State Trooper dispatch neglects a report for weeks

    by Davis Hovey / KNOM on Jul 23, 9:44

    On Friday afternoon, family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of local Nome resident John Penetac, Jr. The 51-year-old passed away on July 6. The cause of death is unknown. Earlier Friday morning, around 11:30am, an Alaska State Trooper dispatch reported a deceased man’s body being found near the area known as Cavota Pond. […]