The fact that Republican candidate for vice president Sarah Palin slashed city funding for forensic rape exams when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, has raised questions about her priorities as an executive. In fact, the controversial rape-kit funding cut was part of larger budget realignment overseen by Palin, where monies aimed at benefiting Wasilla citizens were in effect moved to pay for city legal defense and government employee transportation, including the lease of an SUV for the mayor and expensive improvements to the local airport she used for campaigning. A line-by-line look at the full budget for fiscal year 20001 places the rape-kit cuts in context and provides insight into Sarah Palin's priorities 2 during her 1997-2002 tenure as mayor.
Budgets of course can be arcane. Readers are encouraged to add their own assessments by looking at the budget document, available here as a PDF.
Sample Budget CutsA full review of the non-utility "Materials and Services" line items (available here as a Google Document) for fiscal year 2000 reveals 38 budget cuts. Several of these are worth looking at in detail.
- Library Book Purchasing Fund Slashed (Budget pages G-5 and G-7): Governor Palin's original budget for FY2000 requested a $35,876 (19%) cut from the Library Department's budget. To meet this requirement, the revised budget cut funding by 28% for library materials (books, periodicals, audio/visual materials, and supplies for children programs).
- Animal Control Funding Cut (Page F-6): For a city where vicious dogs are commonplace and bears come to feast on unsecured garbage, the fiscal year 2000 budget cut back Wasilla's funding for the Mat-Su Borough Animal Control by 14%.
- Summer Recreation Program Funding Cut Heavily, Partially Restored (Page F-31): Wasilla had traditionally employed 2 to 3 people to run structured summer programming for city children. The initial fiscal year 2000 budget cut funding from $13,966 to $5,000 (a 57% decrease). The revised budget partially restored the cut, providing $8,355 for the summer rec program.
- Contracted Out Early-Intervention Services Eliminated (Pages G-9 to G-10): Wasilla runs a Youth Court, a program of early intervention for troubled teenagers. Some of the services (it is unclear what these services were) provided by the court were contracted out. The FY2000 budget eliminated funding for these services
- Police Department Public Relations Funding Declines (Page F-27): Under Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, this line item paid for neighborhood watch and crime prevention seminars; Mayor Palin felt that providing a sense of "real down-home community belonging" was of utmost importance. Palin replaced Stambaugh and decreased this line item by 90% between FY97 and FY00.
- Rape Kit Funding Transferred to Victim's Insurance ("Contractual Services" page F-28): The rape kit controversy has been covered extensively, most recently in a report by Jessica Yellin on CNN. However, it is still worth noting that the line item paying for rape kits was slashed from $4,200 in FY99 to a mere $1,000 in FY00. Governor Palin recently gave a non-denial denial when confronted about the controversy.
- Grant Decreased to Children's Shelter (Page F-6): The Dorothy Saxton Youth Shelter provides residential care and rehabilitation to endangered children, including victims of sexual abuse. Sarah Palin's fiscal year 2000 budget decreased the Wasilla city grant to the shelter by 25%.
The other 38 line-items that were cut that year were mundane, and are summarized. Twelve involved typical office-related expenses of the sort present in the budget for every Wasilla City Department. These included items such as postage, office and copier supplies. Four of the other line-items were insurance-related. Of the other 22 items, six involved one-time costs, either economic development projects or various forms of maintenance. Two more were grants that merely passed through the City of Wasilla from the State of Alaska en route to a museum and a senior citizen center; these two cuts were due to actions taken at the state level.
Sample Budget Additions
- Defending Against Wrongful Termination Lawsuit (Page F-15): In response to two lawsuits the city was involved in as a result of actions by Mayor Palin, she included $30,000 for legal services in the Mayor's department's budget. The first of the lawsuits filed against the city was filed by former Police Chief Irl Stambaugh. He sued for breach of contract and wrongful termination. The city won this case in March of 2000 when a judge ruled that under Alaska law, police chiefs serve "at the behest of the mayor," an idiom akin to "at the pleasure of the president."
- A Costly Land Grab The city of Wasilla sued developer Gary Lundgren and The Nature Conservancy in 1999 after Lundgren and the national TNC closed a deal for land. Wasilla had made an offer to the state Nature Conservancy that had been mostly accepted with a few kinks still to be worked out. The city won the initial case in July 2000 and began building a multi-use sports facility on the site, but after Lundgren won on appeal, the city was forced to take eminent domain of the land for a higher cost. When combined with court costs, the city had spent $1.5 million, five times the initial cost of the land.
- Money for a Mayormobile (Page F-15): An expense of $3,579 is allocated for the Mayor's Department in the revised fiscal year 2000 budget for "vehicle lease." The lack of a line-item in this or any other budget showing any vehicle purchase by the Mayor's Department suggests this vehicle was the white Chevrolet Suburban SUV "Mayormobile" mentioned in a recent New York Times article on Palin's tenure as mayor.
- Improvements for Rarely-Used Airport (Pages E-1 and E-2): Wasilla residents tend to use Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and as such, Wasilla's airport gets little use. However, Sarah Palin increased spending for the Wasilla city airport in FY2000 by more than $25,000, from $47,816.26 to $75,135.
Most Alaskan cities and villages require airports, as airplanes are often the only way to get to and from many remote areas of the state. This is why a state of 683,478 people had, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's 2007 data, 51 airports with at least 5,000 passenger boardings. However, Wasilla is not set in one of Alaska's remote locales. It is a mere hour's drive from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Alaska's major airport, which hosts flights not only to anywhere in Alaska but also to, among other places, Seattle, Denver, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Portland, Las Vegas, Houston, Phoenix, Taiwan, and Vladivostok on Russia's eastern edge. As such, Wasilla's airport gets almost no use. During her six years as Wasilla's mayor, Palin obtained $1,864,208 in grants from the federal government for improving the airport.To put the airport in perspective, compare it to the Gravina Access Project, seen by many, if somewhat unfairly, as a massive, unnecessary bridge to get people to Ketchikan International Airport. If one considers the Gravina Access Project spending as "airport spending" and includes the now-redirected $223,000,000 earmark that Sarah Palin falsely claimed to have said "thanks, but no thanks" to, then Ketchikan International Airport received $269,581,727 in federal grant money between 2001-2006. However, Ketchikan International Airport has averaged 106,786 passenger boardings per year over the last eight years. Wasilla's airport has averaged only 60 passenger boardings per year over those eight years (479 total), 384 of which were in 2006 when Governor Palin was flying around Alaska on campaign trips. So, even with the "Bridge to Nowhere", Ketchikan International Airport averaged $421 in federal grants per passenger boarding per year. Wasilla's airport averaged more than ten times that, $5,178 in federal grants per passenger boarding per year.
1 Wasilla's fiscal year 2000 ran from 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000.
2 Wasilla's Budget Process: The FY2001 budget (available here in PDF form) describes the budget process on pages 3 and 4 (12 and 13 in the PDF). In January, the Mayor and the heads of departments decide on the number of personnel needed for the upcoming fiscal year. In February, the Finance Department calculates labor costs and works with department heads to complete their budget requests, which are then submitted to the mayor. During March and April, the Mayor meets with the Finance Director and the head of each department to review in detail the purpose for each line item, and the objectives and goals it helps to meet. The Mayor then makes any changes he or she feels is necessary, and formally submits the budget to the City Council on April 24th. During the year, any new appropriations or transfers of amounts over $5,000 must be approved by the council; transfers of under $5,000 may be made at the discretion of the mayor