Veterans, Knowles pushing issues hard

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2002

JUNEAU -- Leaders of veterans groups said Wednesday they will launch ''an aggressive assault'' to get legislators to act in the next two weeks on a package of veterans' bills Gov. Tony Knowles is pushing.

In a news conference with veterans, Knowles said the veterans bills and a homeland security package are among his priorities this session. He hinted he might force action through a special session if the Legislature doesn't act in the remaining two weeks of the regular session.

''That sometimes is a strategy, a political strategy, to run out the clock,'' Knowles said. ''One thing they forget. I've got the clock.''

House and Senate leaders say there is support for some of what Knowles wants, but lawmakers have questions and concerns about other elements.

Knowles' package includes:

Creating an endowment with $125,000 in state money to repair and maintain veterans' memorials in Alaska. Private contributions would match the state funding.

Approving a $500 million revenue bond package to finance home loans for veterans. Veterans' mortgage payments would repay the debt.

Making the Alaska Veterans' Advisory Council, which the governor established by administrative order, permanent by putting it in state statute.

Converting the pioneers' home system into an Alaska Pioneers' and Veterans' Home system and spending $2.6 million to hire staff so about 100 vacant beds in the homes can be filled.

Spending $250,000 to study what would be needed in a standalone veterans home and approving $4 million in bonds to pay half of the state's share of building a veterans home. Such a facility would house disabled veterans who need care but are not old enough to be eligible for Pioneers Homes.

Leaders of the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars said they are talking to legislators about the bills and asking veterans to send e-mails of support.

''We are not going to genuflect, we are not going to beg the Legislature for any of these issues,'' said Col. Pat Carothers, chairman of Knowles' Alaska Veterans Advisory Council. ''We earned them.''

Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said there is support in the Senate Republican caucus for some of the bills, including the memorial endowment and the advisory council.

Some members also support the Veterans and Pioneers Home concept, but don't support all the additional spending called for in the bill. Cost has also been a hurdle for attempts over many years to build a standalone veterans home in Alaska, Leman said.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, R-North Pole, said the House Republican caucus has been too busy grappling with long-term fiscal issues to talk much about the veterans bills.

She said she personally supports some of them, but would resist changing the Pioneers Home system. She'd prefer a standalone veterans home and would support bonding to build it.

Knowles also complained the Legislature has not acted on a request for $16 million more in state funding for homeland security improvements and related bills. Instead, proposed budget cuts will reduce troopers and other emergency response workers, he said.



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