One question has been asked repeatedly by Alaskans from all walks of life but has yet to be answered: “What consideration has Gov. Mike Dunleavy given to the impact and cost to the state resulting from his proposed budget, and now his recent vetoes?”
We know the Legislature has given lots of consideration to this question when they spent weeks diligently putting together, then passing a thoughtful, balanced budget that still reduced $190 million in unrestricted general funds. Legislators pleaded with us for information, data and stories as they tried to understand what the numbers in these budgets mean. Ultimately, they understood. And they offered a less damaging alternative that sent a message to all Alaskans, including our youngest and most vulnerable, that they are important and valued.
With all that we know about how our brains develop and how early life experiences shape so much of a person’s future and ability to function and contribute to society, how can we be so behind the curve as a state and turn our back on our children and on Alaska’s future?
The governor vetoed $8.8 million in funding for early childhood programs. That is 100% of the state’s budget for programs and services that do so much with so little. These programs give the most at-risk babies and toddlers positive early life experiences and a chance at a future free of mental, physical and social problems. These types of problems cost a lot of money to fix, if we’re lucky to identify them early. They cost even more to ignore.
The most economically efficient time to develop necessary skills and abilities is in the very early years. Gaps in vocabulary, social emotional skills, knowledge and ability between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers often persist throughout school and life and are difficult and costly to close.
Gov. Dunleavy’s veto of $50 million to Medicaid, on top of the $86 million previously cut in the Legislature’s budget, should also be of grave concern.
Earlier this spring, a large group of medical providers crowded the lobby of the Alaska Surgery Center to listen to Gov. Dunleavy deliver an impromptu presentation on his proposed budget. The invite to the meeting was distributed just days prior to the event. The short notice didn’t stop the Anchorage medical community from piling into the room, no doubt exceeding its maximum holding capacity. When it was time for questions and comments, the message was overwhelmingly loud and clear, and identical to the message above: The proposed overall cuts to the Dept. of Health and Social Services and to Medicaid will, without a doubt, cost tenfold more to the state in the long run and will have a devastating effect on our population’s health and well-being.
We must keep the funding for comprehensive early childhood programs because that will lead to greater economic and social gains. Removing early childhood funding, cutting Medicaid and behavioral health grants, and crippling the state’s ability to provide services for those who need them most has a very high price tag. This is a fact the governor’s vetoes blatantly disregard.
Gov. Dunleavy’s enormous cuts will result in the loss of access to medical and behavioral health providers, high quality early care and learning, teachers, preventative medical services and crucial programs that provide opportunities for early identification and intervention for children with disabilities and behavior challenges. That’s just the start.
We call on the Legislature to uphold its constitutional obligation to protect Alaska’s future by voting to override the governor’s vetoes and fighting to keep the budget they worked so hard to pass.
Tamar Ben-Yosef is the executive director of the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership. She writes on behalf of the Alaska Early Childhood Advocacy Group, a coalition of early childhood experts and leading health organizations with representation across Alaska working to increase the number of children ready to succeed in school and beyond. Members of the AECAG are: Association for the Education of Young Children Alaska Affiliates (Anchorage AEYC, AEYC-SEA, and Northern Interior AK AEYC), Best Beginnings, All Alaska Pediatric Partnership (AAPP), thread, Alaska Head Start Association (AHSA), Alaska Infant Learning Program Association (AILPA), and Alaska Parents as Teachers Office (PAT).
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