Two Juneau residents are among five Alaskans who will be honored by Gov. Tony Knowles tonight as he makes the case for his state budget priorities.
University of Alaska Southeast freshman Kanani Pavitt and decorated military veteran Pat Carothers will be introduced by the governor when he delivers his seventh State of the State address at 7 tonight in the House chambers at the Capitol.
Knowles is combining his assessment of Alaska's progress with the annual budget address in a speech to be carried live on the governor's Website, www.gov.state.ak.us, as well as on KTOO-FM and TV and Gavel to Gavel on cable Channel 4. A Republican response will follow.
Spokeswoman Claire Richardson said Pavitt, 19, will be cited as one of "the success stories Alaska schools produce every day."
Pavitt is attending UAS on the Alaska scholarship program that allows the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class to attend the state university tuition-free for four years.
There are 566 Alaska scholars enrolled now, Richardson said. Pavitt was selected because her former high school principal and teachers described her as "dedicated to education," "inclusive with her peers" and "very disciplined," Richardson said.
In remarks prepared for delivery at a midday reception at the Governor's Mansion, Knowles said: "Because of the scholars program, we were lucky to keep Kanani in Alaska - and that's good news for all of us."
At Juneau-Douglas High School, where she graduated in 2000, Pavitt was president of the junior and senior student councils, captain of the volleyball team, captain of the state championship ocean science bowl team, and vice president of the National Honor Society.
Pavitt said she believes state leaders "are trying to increase the standards of education."
"I think it's really important not to underestimate the capabilities of students," she said. "Education is the key to success. I think it's really important the state doesn't lose focus on that."
Carothers, 74, a retired lieutenant colonel and 36-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, has been chairman of Knowles' Alaska Veterans Advisory Council for the past five years. He represented the governor last Veterans Day at a Washington, D.C., ceremony in which President Clinton broke ground for the National World War II Memorial.
Carothers will be introduced in the context of Knowles' push for a veterans' priority in the state-run Pioneers' Homes, which would be renamed Pioneer and Veterans' Homes. Carothers worked with Knowles to develop the proposal.
Knowles has asked for $2.4 million in increased state funding to fill 100 empty beds in the six homes, which have a total capacity of 600. As of November, there were 78 veterans in the homes, which will count toward the 125 beds that Knowles wants reserved for veterans, said Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan. Right now, there are 44 veterans on the active waiting list to get into the homes, Duncan said.
Carothers said expanding the mission of the Pioneers' Homes is "a great concept" for getting additional veterans into the assisted-living, nursing and boarding facilities, although in the long run he is hoping Alaska will shed its status as the only state without a federally approved veterans' home. That first requires the state to spend $200,000 on a study, which Knowles has requested.
"I just hope that the Legislature is listening," Carothers said.
Other Alaskans being honored by Knowles are Anchorage figure skater Megan McDermott, who will be participating in the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage; Special Olympics Volunteer Manager Rachel Barber; and Ahmed Warren of Wasilla, an electrician who moved off of welfare and was expected to attend tonight's speech with his son, A.J., 8.
The governor and aides have said tonight's speech also will concern a proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48, boosting education funding from kindergarten through the university, resolving the conflict over a rural preference for subsistence hunting and fishing, increasing public health and safety, and developing a long-range fiscal plan to plug a projected, ongoing budget cap that threatens to deplete a key reserve account.
Overall, Knowles is asking for an increase of $145 million in state general fund spending. Republican leaders, who completed a five-year budget-cutting plan last session, have reacted skeptically so far. Knowles contends Alaska is the only state cutting funding in recent years, based on statistics from the National Governors' Association. A conservative foundation did a study two years ago showing Alaska was one of three states that cut budgets in the 1990s.
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.
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