By Andrew O’Brien
Sarah Palin is the most famous Alaskan in America. It’s not even close. She is a woman who would have you believe that she, much like her adopted state, built herself out of nothing, without the help of a wealthy benefactor or sinister, generous caretaker. It is the narrative of her political life, one that has seen her rise quickly onto the national scene without much of a clue of what she is talking about.
She is also one of the new breed of conservative-libertarian Tea Partiers, fed up with the spending policies of the federal government which allegedly poses an undue burden on the wallets of each American by taxing them to the bone and spending frivolously on silly ventures like health care and unemployment insurance. The cost is more harmful than productive, they argue. America is losing its way.
Here, they are right. Americans are being unduly taxed without receiving proper benefits. Not those that live in Alaska, however.
Alaskans, meet the federal government, your loathsome sugar daddy. It is the one thing you cannot stand, but also the one you cannot live without.
Alaskan state lawmaker Carl Gatto sees the irony here. He’s a Republican state lawmaker who, though clearly aware of the lopsided financing (for every dollar given to the federal government for highway taxes, Alaska received $5.76), still believes the federal government is holding Alaska back.
“I’ve introduced legislation to roll back the federal government,” he says. “They don’t have solutions; they just have taxes.”
Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”
He points to a newly graded and federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. “Man, beautiful, right?”
Hell yeah, man – nothing like a stretch of asphalt highway to bring out the beauty of the pristine Alaskan wilderness. Mr. Gatto’s 180-degree turn from political righteousness to practical appreciation is the defining dichotomy of just how this Alaskan resolves his mixed feelings towards receiving government funds and choosing to go without.
Alaskans tend to live with their contradictions in these recessionary times. No place benefits more from federal largess than this state, where the Republican governor decries “intrusive” Obama administration policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill.
Although its unemployment rate sits at just 7.9 percent, about two percentage points below the national rate, Alaska has received $3,145 per capita in federal stimulus dollars as of May, the most in the nation, according to figures compiled by Pro Publica, an investigative Web site. Nevada, by contrast, has an unemployment rate north of 14 percent and has received $1,034 per capita in recovery aid. Florida’s jobless rate is 11.4 percent, and the state has obtained $914 per capita.