A newspaper headline recently boasted: "Alaska is poised for prosperity." Alaskans are excited and hopeful about this opportunity and ready to take the steps to make it happen.
To ensure Alaskans benefit from this prosperity, the legislature in its final days should make vital new investments in education, public safety and economic development. With the session scheduled to adjourn May 8, now is the time to urge legislators to address the priorities I believe most Alaskans agree on.
First, new resources for education. So our students are better prepared for the increasingly competitive job market, a citizens' business-led, blue ribbon commission recommended a $45 million additional investment in schools. Municipal governments, school boards, education organizations, the State Board of Education and I have urged the legislature to fund this important need and make this the "education session." Please tell them not to come home without it!
Since education spans a lifetime, we've asked for new investments in early education and the University of Alaska. To include more young Alaskans in Head Start, we've asked for a modest $660,000 to bring in $3.3 million new federal dollars. So far, legislators have approved only $100,000. Let's take advantage of these federal dollars to improve the lives of young Alaskans.
For the second year in a row, UA Regents have sought a bold $16.9 million investment to help make our university world-class. The legislature's answer so far this year: Only about than half that amount. Let's continue doing our part to make sure our great state has a great university.
Alaska entered the 21st century enjoying a 25 percent drop in crime. Yet budget decisions so far this session threaten that progress.
We have 100 fewer law enforcement officers than 25 years ago, but 40 percent more people. There are 114 villages with no public safety at all. Alcohol abuse and related crime and deaths are rising.
I have asked the legislature to make Alaska safer by funding more troopers and officers. Instead of the 20 new Village Public Safety Officers we've requested, the legislature has delivered none. They are considering only four of the eight new trooper-trained constables we're seeking for rural Alaska. Instead of the 20 new troopers and Fish and Wildlife officers we need, lawmakers have funded about five.
And while talking tough about cracking down on alcohol abuse, they've approved virtually no new funds to treat alcohol abusers who we know are much more likely to re-offend without treatment.
To better make our judicial system work for crime victims instead of forcing victims to work the system, I've asked the legislature to pass my victims' bill. It ensures that victims receive court-ordered restitution they're due from those who injured them.
When it comes to poor treatment of innocent Alaskans, the Senate's attempt to fight the courts and hold thousands of Alaskans hostage to a right-wing ideology on abortion is unacceptable. I hope rational thinking prevails and the full legislature reverses this ill-conceived effort. It jeopardizes services for abused children, foster parents, tuberculosis patients and thousands of others who depend on the Department of Health and Social Services.
A priority for every Alaskan is creating new jobs and economic opportunities for our families. My job is to do everything possible to build a natural gas pipeline along the Alaska Highway. Access to gas by Alaskans, new industries, good jobs and more state revenues make for a bright future. We can't miss this golden opportunity.
To get a jump on permitting and rights-of-way approvals so construction can begin as soon as possible, we've requested about $10 million for this year and next. I encourage the legislature to work positively with us to build this pipeline project.
There are five additional issues I believe the legislature needs to address before calling this session successful: Must-have bills which so far have received inadequate attention or are being held hostage.
We must increase in the Alaska minimum wage, the lowest on the West Coast. And the "tip credit" amendment isn't right waiters and service people deserve a fair wage without being penalized for giving good service.
We must require the cruise ship industry to meet state standards for clean water and air. Pollution of our marine environment must stop. Everybody agrees this is long overdue.
We must provide treatment for breast and cervical cancer. This measure could mean life or death for dozens of Alaska women who fall in the cracks of inadequate health insurance.
We can improve our roads, highways and airports using a unique formula that allows us to use future federal dollars now, saving Alaskans $63 million.
We can improve and expand our Pioneers' Homes by providing for increased access to care for Alaska veterans. This plan, endorsed by veterans and seniors across the state, our congressional delegation and the new head of the federal Veterans Affairs Department, is stalled in legislative committees.
As usual, the normal legislative process puts off most decisions until the final days. Now is the time to address Alaskan's priorities: Education, public safety, jobs and vital legislation. Remind legislators the status quo isn't enough; now's the time to invest in Alaska's future.
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