Investments in children, subsistence protection, sustainable budget still key issues

Session hits mid-way point today

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2002

Today is the half-way mark in this year's legislative session, in which Alaskans have an historic opportunity to resolve three vital issues affecting future generations.

We can continue modest but strategic investments for Alaska's children in education, health and safety; protect the subsistence way of life by finally allowing a vote on a constitutional amendment; and take action on revenues needed for a sustainable, balanced budget.

I began the session 60 days ago with this three-part agenda designed to keep Alaska on a prosperous course.

Lack of additional investments in education and children's health and safety will drive up the cost of government with more welfare, prisoners, broken dreams and dysfunctional families.

Refusing to allow Alaskans to vote on a subsistence constitutional amendment will permanently hand management to the feds and further divide Alaskans.

Inaction on sustainable, long-term revenues jeopardizes our economy, risks vital public services and could send Alaska into nosedive.

The Legislature's bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus deserves credit and encouragement for efforts to adopt a fair balanced budget plan. This

coalition of veteran and new legislators has the courage and foresight to push for new revenues to address Alaska's billion-dollar budget gap.

Unfortunately, some legislative leaders say before acting on revenues, Alaskans must suffer pain from severe cuts in public services.

Alaska is one of only seven states in America with a growing economy. House majority budget-writers have proposed $100 million in service cuts in a single year, plus denial of some critically needed investments. Why should we jeopardize Alaska jobs and unfairly single out individual Alaskans for some notion of budget pain?

Among their targets:

Reversing progress in children's health and protection by eliminating 32 child protection workers and delaying adoptions.

Leaving 100 pioneers' homes beds vacant.

Wiping out Fish and Game's Subsistence Division and handing some fisheries management to the feds.

Closing 28 state parks.

Ending restaurant, grocery store and school kitchen food inspections.

Laying off up to 23 Alaska State Troopers and slowing criminal prosecutions.

Eliminating an avalanche warning system and reducing fire prevention.

Severely curtailing road maintenance and tying up two state ferries.

I support government efficiency and have worked with legislators to cut Alaska's budget. In fact, state spending is $1,100 less per Alaskan in today's dollars than in 1979, the first full year of oil flow through the pipeline.

Yet, providing the same level of services this year costs $99 million more because of unavoidable costs. We must operate new facilities such as the new Anchorage jail, fund already approved state worker contracts, provide medical care for seniors and Alaskans with disabilities, finance existing debt for new schools and replace $43 million in lost federal and other funds.

My proposed modest increases are smart ways to help balance future budgets. Investing now to combat child abuse and neglect and substance abuse will save Alaskans millions in the cost of crime, prisons and welfare. Streamlining oil and gas permitting will net us millions more in state revenues.

Please tell your representatives what you think of these misdirected cuts before they finish next year's budget. For details on their public hearing schedule and statewide impacts of their proposed cuts, see our Web site:

Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of Alaskans last summer and fall, we're closer than ever to finally protecting subsistence. I recently forwarded to the Legislature an innovative constitutional amendment that protects the importance of subsistence for rural Alaskans and recognizes the needs of urban residents who have a customary and traditional use of fish and game resources.

Positive action on these three issues -- investments in our children, protecting subsistence and a sustainable budget -- will earn this Legislature the gratitude of Alaskans now and long into the future. Let them know you feel strongly about these issues.

Tony Knowles, a Democrat, has served as governor of Alaska since 1994.

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