Post-Palin Alaska has largest debt burden in U.S.

Former Governor Sarah Palin left Alaska with the largest debt-burden of any state in the U.S.
Former Governor Sarah Palin left Alaska with the largest debt-burden of any state in the U.S.

Sarah Palin has long sold herself as a fiscal conservative, arguing against the Democrats' health overhaul on the grounds that the nation simply can't afford it.

But when the former vice presidential candidate resigned as governor of Alaska in the summer of 2009, she left the state with a 70 percent debt-to-GDP ratio — the highest state debt burden in the United States.

That's according to data compiled by the Washington Independent's Megan Carpentier, who notes that Alaska has a debt burden similar to "that of Jordan and Palin's favorite health care resource, Canada, and a higher ratio than Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, India, the Philippines or Uruguay."

By comparison, crisis-stricken California has a debt ratio of less than 40 percent. All the more confounding about Alaska's debt is the fact that it is an oil-producing region with a small population to share in that wealth. Oil-rich Alberta, Canada, for example, collects no sales tax and still managed to retire its debt entirely in 2004.

While Alaska's massive debt burden can't be blamed entirely on Palin's two-and-a-half-year stint as governor, she did face similar debt problems while mayor of Wasilla, and those appear to be of her own making.

Wasilla's municipal debt went from around $1 million when she came in to office, to around $22 million when she left, mostly as a result of the construction of a sports arena and public works projects championed by Palin.

While Alaska's debt load is high by the standards of US states, it's worth noting some nations have considerably higher debt loads. Japan, for example, is carrying a debt load of more than 190 percent of GDP; Greece, recently hit by a debt crisis, has a 108 percent debt-to-GDP ratio.

The debt load for the U.S. federal government clocked in at around 53 percent in 2009; the debt is expected to increase to 68.5 percent by 2014.

31 March 2010 — Return to cover.