Palin’s Alaska Record Short On Trade, Immigration Decisions

Palin's Alaska Record Short on Trade, Immigration Decisions

By Matthew Benjamin and Nicholas Johnston
Bloomberg News, September 4, 2008

By now, many Americans know Sarah Palin's views on guns, gays and abortion. When it comes to matters like trade, immigration, Social Security and Medicare, her record is mostly a blank slate.

Palin, 44, nominated last night to be the running mate of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, has dealt with few of the economic issues that concern Americans the most, focusing during her 20 months as governor of Alaska on energy policy above all else.

The reasons: Alaska, whose population of 670,000 is smaller than that of all but three states, has no income or sales tax, few manufacturing jobs and even fewer illegal immigrants. And its economy is based almost entirely on natural resources and tourism.

“She has a limited amount of experience, so we don't know what her stances are'' on larger national issues, said Alaska state House Speaker John Harris, a Republican supporter of the governor.

The McCain campaign yesterday sought to strengthen Palin's hand on the economy. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office who is a top McCain economic adviser, will now also advise Palin.

The next presidential administration will have to grapple with challenges such as taxes, reining in federal spending and the loss of manufacturing jobs abroad.

“Taxes are too high,'' Palin said in her acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Democratic nominee Barack Obama “wants to raise them.''

Gasoline and Groceries

While McCain, 72, touted Palin's executive experience when he introduced her in Ohio last week, he focused on her life as ordinary person.

Palin, he said, “understands the problems, the hopes and the values of working people, knows what it's like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline and groceries.''

The McCain campaign said yesterday it plans to unveil a television ad arguing that Palin is more experienced than Obama because she oversees 24,000 state employees and a $10 billion budget.

Economists say managing Alaska's economy and budget is different than in other states.

The state's $36 billion Permanent Fund, derived from oil revenue, makes it look more like energy-rich nations such as Abu Dhabi and Norway than the rest of the U.S.

“We are a countercyclical state and we have a huge budget surplus,'' said Gerald McBeath, a political scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “That makes it hard to compare to other states.''

No Job-Loss Threat

Alaska has just 21,500 manufacturing workers, with 17,200 employed in seafood processing, according to the state labor department. The rest are concentrated in energy and unlikely to be moved overseas.

Illegal immigration, which weighs on the economies of many states, is negligible in Alaska. According to the 2000 Census, the state had only 5,000 undocumented aliens.

Palin does have extensive experience in energy, where she's taken a hard line against oil companies and pressed for more exploration and infrastructure development.

She pushed through a $1.5 billion tax increase on oil- company profits last year to help fund price relief for Alaskans.

Palin also spurred a long-moribund effort to promote a natural gas pipeline project from Alaska into Canada. In May, she asked state lawmakers to approve a $30 billion-$40 billion proposal from TransCanada Corp. to build the pipeline.

Waiting for Impact

“She jumpstarted the natural gas pipeline project, which really has the potential to benefit the state,'' said Larry Ross, an economics professor at the University of Alaska.

Palin goes further than McCain in calling for domestic oil drilling. She supports production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he doesn't.

“The time is right to develop those resources,'' Palin told Bloomberg Television in February.

Even with a surplus, Palin has been mindful of the budget. She's twice slashed the capital budget, vetoing a quarter- billion dollars each time. Palin has said the state must build a surplus for times when oil prices drop.

While her experience on some economic issues may be scant, Palin's rhetoric generally matches McCain's.

Like the Arizona senator, she's pro-trade, though she offers few specifics. On a state Web site, she says simply: “International trade is important to Alaska. We are helping our economy and economies around the world through trade.''

Export Surge

Alaska shipped products to 100 foreign destinations in 2007, with total goods exports of $4 billion, up 46 percent from 2003, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The top recipients were Japan and China, which mostly received seafood products, the state's largest export, making up half the total.

Palin also agrees with McCain on taxes, saying that lowering them spurs the economy. Alaska is one of only seven states with no income tax and one of five with no sales tax. That gives Alaskans the country's lowest individual tax burden, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group.

“Their tax structure is so much different in Alaska, because it's based on extraction,'' said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group in Washington. “Still,'' he said, “taxes are too high.''


Palin's immigration views unknown
United Press International, September 3, 2008

Palins views on immigration remain a mystery
By Jim Snyder
The Hill (Washington, DC), September 3, 2008