Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) backed out a scheduled meeting Thursday with state legislative leaders who have publicly criticized her plan to turn down a portion of the state’s federal stimulus funds.
“We had a meeting scheduled with the governor today and her legislative liaison told us that she wasn’t there and that we could meet with the staff,” said Gary Stevens, the state’s Republican Senate President, at an afternoon press conference. “We’re here, we’re available, and unfortunately she is not.”
Palin fired back in a statement released during the press conference, claiming that the lawmakers cancelled the meeting with her so that they could “host their own press conference.”
Stevens said Palin’s account of events “is absolutely false.”
“To say that we cancelled the meeting to have a press conference is absolutely untrue and somebody should be brought to task on that,” he said.
According to Stevens and Republican state House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Palin legislative aide told them that the governor could not meet with them and offered to have members of Palin’s staff speak with the lawmakers instead.
Stevens said the lawmakers turned down the offer because Palin’s staff “often has trouble answering questions.”
The meeting was scheduled to negotiate a solution to the conflict between lawmakers and Palin over the 31 percent of federal stimulus package funds the governor said she plans to turn down.
GOP state legislative leaders, who can bypass Palin to accept the disputed funds, have accused the governor of playing politics with federal money allocated to a state facing a massive budget deficit.
“We think the stimulus package brings a unique opportunity for communities around Alaska to benefit,” Chenault said.
Despite Palin’s announcement that she would like to turn down a chunk of the stimulus, she conceded Thursday that the decision was not up to her.
“I can't predict how much or what funds legislators might add to my request, and we haven't heard all the public testimony yet,” Palin said. “To say now what might happen with an unknown bill would be premature.”