We must fund a budget that provides essential services

Representative Tiffany Zulkosky

by Representative Tiffany Zulkosky

After a year of drawn out Legislative sessions, it was wonderful to spend the remainder of 2019 home in the district. I appreciated and valued all the conversations I’ve had with you at home in Bethel and across the YK Delta. I look forward to continuing those conversations during my time in Juneau this year.

Although I’m sad to leave our home, I’m excited to get back to work and grateful for the privilege of representing you in the Legislature.

This year I anticipate that most of the Legislature’s attention will be focused on the budget. After last year’s contentious budget process, one of my top priorities this year is to ensure that our process is more constructive and less anxiety-inducing.

Causing economic and programmatic instability is poor public policy. I also want to be clear that continual and unprecedented cuts to essential state services cannot be the new normal. We must fund a budget that provides essential services like Power Cost Equalization, public safety, Medicaid, education, Village Safe Water and countless other staples, alongside a sustainable Permanent Fund that can pay dividends to the next several generations of Alaskans.

I think of the PFD in the same way I think about our fish. When we are careful and smart with how much we decide to take in a year, we protect our runs and ensure we have a sustainable resource that will provide for our descendants for generations to come.

With state savings accounts nearly depleted and limited political will to address state revenues, I believe we need to pay as large of a dividend as we can – recognizing families rely on this annual resource – without threatening our ability to offer the critical state services our district depends on or harming our ability to pay future dividends.

During the FY20 budget process, we saw the Governor propose draining the Power Cost Equalization endowment fund, end university scholarships for Alaskan students and cut annual funding for the VPSO program in half in order to pay Alaskans a one time dividend.

I want to ensure we do not eliminate essential programs like PCE and the VPSO program just so the State can pay an extra-large, one-time PFD.

This year, I’m honored and excited to continue serving on four committees that play key roles in making Alaska a better place to live, learn, work, and raise a family. I serve as chair of the Tribal Affairs and Health and Social Services committees, as well as a member on the Energy and Education committees. I believe my role on these important committees will continue to elevate topics important to the YK Delta, both in the Capitol Building and across the state of Alaska.

During the interim and continuing in the 2020 Legislative session, there has been a lot of interest and dialogue on the topic of state-Tribal compacting; especially in the area of K-12 education. For decades, Alaska’s Tribes have demonstrated what successful compacting looks like through Alaska’s Tribal health system.

Under Tribal leadership, health services, formally offered by the Indian Health Service, have grown and adapted to meet the unique needs of each region. We have seen the Tribal health system incorporate culturally-relevant models into and alongside nationally-recommended health practices, providing beneficiaries with the best health care as close to home as possible.

But this type of progress is not possible without good faith negotiations between both parties entering into the compact. The state and the Legislature must work with tribes to design what forthcoming compacts should look like, as well as ensure they are meaningfully funded.

The state must also work to successfully maintain existing compacts, like the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare compact. If the state or Legislature develops Tribal compacting policies without consultation, does not provide the funding necessary to deliver services and does not work to protect existing compacts, we have failed to negotiate with Tribes in good faith.

Tribal compacting is not a “cost savings” measure, it is a way to maximize resources, incorporate cultural knowledge, and achieve the best outcomes through a variety of services. Through state-Tribal compacting, the state can only benefit when we’ve done everything we can to ensure our Tribes are successful.

Again, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Alaska House Representative. It is an honor and a privilege to get to serve you, as well as the region and the state I love.

Representative Zulkosky serves Alaska House District 38.

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