Knowles outlines rural legislative agenda at Native convention

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2001

KAKE (AP) -- Entering his last year in office, Gov. Tony Knowles told a group of Alaska Natives he has much unfinished business to take up when the Legislature returns to session in January.

Knowles pledged to fight for more village public safety officers and constables, fix a disparity in rural school funding and secure tougher sentences for racially motivated crimes.

Speaking at the Alaska Native Brotherhood convention in Kake, Knowles chided the Legislature for not holding a hearing on his hate crimes bill last year.

''But take notice: they will hear us again -- loud and clear -- the voice of everyone in this room,'' Knowles told about 200 in attendance.

Knowles formed a 14-member Commission on Tolerance after paintball attacks on Alaska Natives by a group of white teen-agers.

The panel is expected to release its final report and recommendations by Nov. 30.

It will be part of several initiatives Knowles will take up in the last year of his second term as governor. Knowles is prohibited by state law from seeking a third term.

Among the measures are a $32.7 million increase in education spending, a constitutional amendment on subsistence and a $100 million anti-terrorism package calling for hiring 66 additional Alaska State Troopers.

Knowles' Homeland Security plan, unveiled Monday, calls for hiring 33 troopers each in fiscal 2002 and in 2003. He also wants to hire another 20 village public safety officers and six new constables.

Under the plan, 18 troopers would be used to secure the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and other potential terrorist targets.

Additional troopers would be used elsewhere around the state, King said.

Each budget proposed by the Democrat governor since 1994 has included a request for additional troopers, King said. Last year, the GOP-controlled Legislature funded only eight of the 20 troopers Knowles requested.

Senate Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, questioned how the state could pay for all of Knowles' recent requests.

The state currently spends more than it takes in and budget officials anticipate using up to $667 million from the budget reserve to balance next year's state spending.

Donley said he is concerned Knowles is using the current fear of terrorist threats to push through the latest request.

''We're going to take a hard look at that and do everything we can necessary to make Alaska safe. At the same time, that doesn't mean the governor gets a blank check,'' Donley said.

About $43 million of Knowles' anti-terrorism initiative would come from state coffers. Federal funds make up $40 million of the plan and $16 million would come from other sources, Knowles has said.

Knowles acknowledged there have been no specific threats against Alaska targets since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. But he defended his request noting that international terrorists aren't the only threat to Alaska.

A Livengood man is charged with shooting the pipeline Oct. 4, causing a 285,000-gallon oil spill. The shooting has put pipeline security under greater scrutiny in recent weeks.

Donley said he was not opposed to increasing the number of village public safety officers -- the Legislature approved three new positions last year -- but he also wants assurances they will go where they are needed.

''The administration has not administered this program very well,'' Donley said, citing the case of one village which used its VPSO as a dog catcher.

Knowles will also ask the Legislature for $1.2 million to fix a disparity in funding for rural schools.

Under the state's school funding formula, some rural schools receive only 60 percent of their per-student funding for new enrollees. ''That's wrong, and it must change,'' Knowles said.

The details of some of Knowles' legislation are still being worked out, King said. Knowles is also waiting on a final report from another panel crafting a proposed constitutional amendment on subsistence.

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