The Palin rape kit billing controversy has made its way from OfftheBus to CNN. In her story on the controversy, CNN's Jessica Yellin claimed to have found no evidence in city records that Sarah Palin was aware that sexual assault victims were being billed for forensic testing. However, recently released budget documents show that Sarah Palin directly shifted the cost of the rape kits from the police department to the victims in her budget for fiscal year 2000. If what a former city council member told CNN is true, that "Palin would review each department's budget line by line," then she either knew about the funding shift and approved it or was negligent in her role as state executive.
It is a fact that under Sarah Palin's administration, Wasilla cut funds that had previously paid for the medical exams and began charging victims or their health insurers the $500 to $1200 fees. Although Palin spokeswoman Maria Comella wrote USA Today that the GOP vice presidential nominee "does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test...To suggest otherwise is a deliberate misrepresentation of her commitment to supporting victims and bringing violent criminals to justice," the evidence from Wasilla's budget records says otherwise.
The mayor of Wasilla before Sarah Palin, John C. Stein, was also a Republican, though the office was and continues to be non-partisan. Mayor Stein was defeated by Sarah Palin in a campaign that brought in the NRA, Republican partisans, and various dirty tricks, including a possible whisper campaign that Mayor Stein was Jewish (he is a Christian, but is "proud of such a reputation"). He now runs the Sitka Sound Science Center, a marine research facility in Sitka, Alaska.
Mayor Stein told OffTheBus that he didn't "think victims were billed while [he] was mayor," but that he wasn't certain. He did mention that "Wasilla participated in establishing a Sexual Assault Response Team to set-up a one-stop forensic exam room for victims," evidence of a pro-victim police department. In order to confirm his assertion about the billing policy, he recommended I contact current police chief Angella Long for confirmation. She did not return my request for comment.
However, I was able to eventually track down Irl Stambaugh, police chief of Wasilla from the founding of the department until Sarah Palin fired him for "not fully supporting her efforts to govern." Stambaugh sued for breach of contract, but lost when a federal judge ruled that "police chiefs serve at the behest of the mayor unless otherwise specified." He later served as the executive director of the Alaska Police Standards Council.
It turns out that Wasilla did not bill sexual assault victims for the cost of rape exams while Irl Stambaugh was chief of police. As chief, he had included a line item in the budget to pay for the cost of such exams. He had only just heard about the Mayor Palin/Chief Fannon policy today, and was just as shocked to hear about it as I was.
In an earlier piece, I had mistakenly said that the exams were covered under a general "contingency" funding. In fact, the department's first full-year budget, for fiscal year 1994 (July 1, 1993-June 30, 1994), included a line item specifically to pay for medical examinations. This line item was denoted "contractual services", and was described on page G-26 of that budget (available in this PDF on page 42) as covering "costs for medical blood tests for intoxicated drivers & medical exam/evidence collection for sexual assaults." As a member of the city council at the time, Palin was required to read and approve this budget. The contractual services line item was more succinctly described in the 1995 and 1996 budgets as "costs for medical blood tests or exams as required for evidence."
Starting with the last budget under Mayor John Stein, the FY97 budget (July 1, 1996-June 30, 1997), the line item explanations became less detailed, with the explanation for the "contractual services" line item for several departments combined into one. The explanation reads "Contractual Services/General-medical testing, road maintenance, equipment rental, airport snow removal." A table below lists the allocations and spending for the "contractual services" line item from FY94-FY99 (the budgets for the italicized years were submitted by John Stein; the others by Sarah Palin)
|Fiscal Year||Police Department Contractual Services Line Item|
For FY 2000, however (July 1st, 1999-June 30th, 2000), only $1,000 was allocated for the "contractual services" police department line item. Note that page A-1 of the budget (available here) states that "the Wasilla city council hereby adopts the operating budget for the Fiscal Year 2000, as presented by the Mayor and introduced on April 26, 1999." At the bottom of this page is Sarah Palin's signature.
The actual line-item showing the cut in funds allocated for contractual services can be found on page F-28. The line item index confirming that this line-item still referred to "medical testing, road maintenance, equipment rental, airport snow removal" can be found on page H-5 of the line-item index for fiscal year 2000 (available here).
Of the insufficient $1,000 allocated, only $152 had been used by December 31st, 1999, according to data from the FY2001 budget. That budget was "submitted by Mayor Sarah Palin" on April 24, 2000. At this time, the bill banning the "victim pays" policy was under consideration in the state House, and as a result, this budget included the FY99-level $4,000 allocation for "contractual services," and starting in June of 2000, the city began paying for the exams again. The interesting thing about the $152 spent during that 6-month time period (there were probably 5 sexual assaults reported during that period) is that it was not even enough to cover a single rape kit, using the $300-$1,200 range given by the original Frontiersman article. Perhaps Fannon was still using the fund for intermittent DWI blood testing, which had skyrocketed as a result of his decision to shift back bar closing times to 5 a.m. from the 2 a.m. closing time set by former Police Chief Irl Stambaugh.
The budget document for the 1999-2000 fiscal year includes a budget message by Mayor Sarah Palin. According to item A.6 of Section 2.16.020 of the Wasilla Municipal Code, the mayor must "repare and submit an annual budget and capital improvement program for consideration by the council, and execute the budget and capital program as adopted." This message ends as follows:
Though change is sometimes initially unsettling (and in the Woodrow Wilson: "if you want to make enemies, try to change something.") It is Administration's desire that this budget format be viewed objectively. I look forward to council discussions and continued input from our residents on the budget as we mindfully prioritize the public's dollars to plan, construct and improve our vital infrastructure
At the end of the letter, under the words "Sincerely," is the signature of Sarah Palin. The McCain/Palin campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The Obama/Biden campaign theme is "change we can believe in." Given Governor Palin's own words and actions in this budget, perhaps the McCain/Palin campaign's theme ought to be "change that is unsettling."