JUNEAU (AP) -- The Legislature's Democratic minority echoed Gov. Tony Knowles on many issues Thursday, calling for a North Slope gas line, a delay in the high school exit exam, a constitutional amendment allowing a rural subsistence priority and a variety of spending increases.
On a day when majority Republicans were caucusing behind closed doors hashing out their agenda, the minority faced reporters to push a slate of priorities they contend will improve life in Alaska.
''What can we do to increase personal freedoms and economic opportunity?'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.
Berkowitz' question could be prophetic because Republicans control both the House and the Senate with nearly enough votes to ignore the minority. For the 12 Democrats in the House minority and six Senate Democrats, the Legislature's session may be a frustrating marathon of stalled bills and defeated amendments.
Knowles, also a Democrat, has proposed a $145 million budget increase, with big increases for education, the university and public safety. In his State of the State speech Wednesday, Knowles also called for a subsistence amendment and a long-term solution to the gap between state spending and revenue. Similar proposals have failed in the GOP-led Legislature in the past, and Republican leaders are dubious about his budget increases.
''The governor has each and every year that he's been in office presented a budget that has been pared down,'' said House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage. ''When you call for full funding, that depends on who gets to decide the size of the container that you want to make full.''
But the governor's fellow Democrats enthusiastically endorsed the Knowles agenda.
''It's not rocket science,'' Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, said of the budget gap. ''It's not complicated. We're going to run out of our savings pretty soon and we need to have other revenues.''
However, like Knowles, the minority was unwilling to propose a specific tax or plan for tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund to bridge the budget gap. Berkowitz noted that Democrats have little power to move their ideas through the Legislature.
''We do not wield the gavels,'' Berkowitz said.
Perhaps the starkest difference between the two parties in the first days of the Legislature is over the state's new high school exit exam, which will be required for graduation in 2002. Knowles and other Democrats want to delay the exam -- approved in 1997 by the Legislature -- to give students more time to prepare. The test's sponsors argue that schools have known the test was coming for years and should be ready now.
''We know that we are not going to bring the children who have failed the exam up to par by 2002,'' said Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage.
Only a third of the sophomores who took the test last year passed the math portion, although its unclear whether all those students had studied all the material on a test designed for seniors.
Democrats also echoed Knowles' call for an amendment allowing a subsistence preference for rural hunters and fishermen. After a similar amendment failed in 1999, federal authorities took over management of subsistence fishing on most Alaska waters, a move intended to protect subsistence rights for rural Alaska Native villagers.
However, Democrats seemed resigned that a Republican faction that calls the rural priority discriminatory against urban residents has grown stronger in the Senate in last year's election.
''We know where the stumbling blocks are,'' said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who represents a vast rural district in Western Alaska. ''The Senate has grown more conservative.''
Hoffman added that the urgency to resolve state and federal law may be fading among some of his constituents.
''They see that federal management is working,'' Hoffman said. ''Maybe there is a movement to support federal management in part of the state.''
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