Knowles downplays differences with legislative leaders

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles had little ill to say about this year's legislative session.

At a Tuesday press conference, the Democrat said ``considerable progress'' had been made on several fronts, though he did say there were two failures - work on a long-range fiscal plan and on solving Alaska's subsistence dilemma.

Before lawmakers arrived in January, Knowles put forth what he called the children's budget. That, he said, was the most important of the initiatives launched this year. Though Republicans didn't give the governor all the added money he asked for, they gave enough for education, child care, child protection and other such programs to keep Knowles' comments generally positive.

``The children's budget, I believe, we made considerable progress in all of the areas,'' Knowles said. ``It was done on a bipartisan basis, it was done with a minimum of rancor.''

He then pointed to a couple of what he saw as gaps in the GOP legislative package.

``Unfortunately, one thing that was left out was any progress on early learning ...,'' he said. Though funded, programs such as Head Start didn't get the additional funds Knowles asked for.

Rural schools in need of major repair needs were left out of a $300 million bond package, which Knowles said disappointed him as well.

The passage of measures to set up an endowment to pay for rural power subsidies was a major accomplishment, which he said will lay a foundation for economic development across the state.

But efforts to bring Alaskans together, he said, made less progress.

``On that area I don't believe that we achieved the success that we could have, that we, indeed, must have,'' Knowles said.

The key issue dividing Alaskans, he said, is subsistence. Voters, he said, were once again denied a chance to vote on whether to grant a rural preference for subsistence hunting and fishing in Alaska.

He pledged to keep trying, but did not say he'd call another special session to try again. Before this year's session, leaders in the GOP majority said there still weren't the votes to approved a constitutional amendment to allow for a rural priority. No real effort was made by the Legislature to take on the issue.

``This issue has not been adequately addressed,'' Knowles said. ``I will not rest until that issue has been resolved as long as I am in public office.''

Sen. Sean Parnell, an Anchorage Republican, sat in on the press conference. He said GOP policy priorities - children, public safety, education and transportation - match up with those of Knowles. Though the GOP was driven to cut $30 million in general fund spending, he said, money was found to fund essential programs. In the end, he said, neither the governor nor the Republican legislative majority ended up with everything they wanted this year.

That Knowles leveled so little criticism on the Legislature this session was fine with him.

``I think it's OK if the governor wants to raise his hands and take a victory lap with us,'' Parnell said.

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