Right now, the state is in need of a stronger economic plan

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2002

On Wednesday, Gov. Tony Knowles outlined his program in a message presented before state legislators. The legislative majority gave its response. They disagree. That's not news, not good news for Alaskans.

The governor placed before the lawmakers this year an increased budget. Part of the increase he blamed on legislators in a manner that did little to improve relations with them. He called for reinstating the individual income tax, taxing cruise ship passengers and increasing the taxes on liquor. Republican legislative leaders prefer to reduce state spending and putting a cap on it first.

There is no way that state spending can be reduced by $1 billion a year to cover the budget deficit. No combination of taxes will increase state income by $1 billion. A combination of both won't do the job either. The third requirement, unmentioned, is a strong economic plan.

The state must build infrastructure and amend law and regulations to encourage business and jobs. A natural gas pipeline, preferably financed by private industry, is needed. Before cutting trees became a crime around Juneau, the territory of Alaska granted 10year tax exemptions to startup industries, all industry, not only timber.

The state needs new ferries, new and improved highways, power interties, railroad extensions, improved maritime facilities such as the stateowned but privately operated Ketchikan shipyard to attract more business and jobs, jobs, jobs. General obligation bonds to pay for infrastructure encourage private investment to provide jobs. What the lawmakers spend each year for capital projects could, instead, amortize bonds to finance infrastructure. A bond program boosted Alaska's economy when it first gained statehood. Those bonds have been retired and that method of boosting the economy forgotten.

The governor asks for more money for education and children's programs. Providing for children is necessary but to be workable parents need jobs.

When it comes to education and children, one issue before the legislature should have unanimous support. It is covered in House Bill 171 by Rep. Mary Kapsner of Bethel. It is a requirement high school students take an Alaska history class. Non-controversial? Hardly.

Some worry that the Legislature is micromanaging curriculum. Others say there is no room in school programs without eliminating a popular current course or activity. Others ask, what text or books will be used, fearing a program with a hidden agenda.

Alaska history was required in territorial days. One half of state high schools now offer it but not in the five largest school districts. The Anchorage School Board recently voted to change that. The governor's recent Commission on Tolerance recommended teaching Alaska history as a way to increase cultural understanding. The Alaska Historical Commission advocates passage of HB 171.

Students all Alaskans should know about historic actions that effect their lives, such as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. All should read the Alaska Constitution. It's well written and not lengthy. It outlines guaranteed rights of Alaskans.

There is no problem in offering Alaska history. Every educator in Alaska must take an Alaska history course within two years of accepting a teaching job in order to become certified. The University of Alaska offers history courses, some by distance delivery, and a wealth of resources.

It is a sorry state that legislation is required to assure Alaskans are taught the history of their state, its issues and cultures.

Williams is retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News and a former member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

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