Governor touts 'Children's Budget'

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles says the future of Alaska rests with the the state's children.

But promoting education alone is not enough, he told a joint meeting of the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce Thursday.

"We need to educate our children and keep them healthy to grow Alaska's economy," he said. "But to do that, we must do other things as well; we need to resolve subsistence and have the political courage to implement a long-term balanced budget."

Knowles was in Kenai with Education and Early Development Commissioner Rick Cross and Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue, both of whom spoke on the subject as well.

"What we want is success for every child," Cross said. "Everyone -- not just 70 percent -- because we believe that all children can learn."

He said Alaska's adults have a responsibility under the plan.

"We cannot expect our children to excel if we, as adults, are not willing to make an effort," he said. "The testing is over and now it's time for us adults to perform."

Cross was referring to the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam administered to sophomores around the state last week.

"One-third of our population is children," Perdue said. "Our focus is on improving the health of our children enough so they will be successful and stay in Alaska. And quite frankly, so they can take care of us in the future."

She went on to say that child care needs to be safe and enriching, and a system needs to be in place to check on children during the day when parents are at work.

"And did you know we had a six-month waiting list for infants to be screened for hearing loss?" she asked the audience. "For just a very little amount of money we can wipe out that waiting list."

The governor said to ensure a bright future for Alaska's children, there must be a long-term fiscal plan.

"To reach those goals, the Legislature must come up with a long-term balanced budget and make some tough decisions regarding use of (Alaska) Permanent Fund earnings."

He said his first balanced budget plan of using some permanent fund earnings, user fees and cuts unified the Legislature.

"It was a bipartisan rejection," he laughed. "But we have to come back at it again. We need to go back and get it right."

He said the solution may rest in a combination of things, including new taxes.

"I know I'm in the heart of 'don't touch my dividend' country, but we have to look at that, and cutting services, and implementing some sort of broad-based tax, either income tax or sales tax," he said. "We're a rich state, so why can't we balance our budget?"

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