PHOENIX - In an assessment of the impact of Arizona's recently passed state budget on Northern Arizona in general, and Arizona Indian tribes in particular, Rep. Jack C. Jackson Jr., D-District 2, harshly criticized the budget process and placed the blame for its "flaws" squarely on the shoulders of the state's House Republican leaders.
"This year's budget process was one of the most divisive on record," Jackson stated. "The budget process was as flawed as the budget itself because a small group of House Republican leaders went into a back room, closed the door, and made all the decisions. They didn't listen to, or show any respect for the public impacted by this budget, the Governor, every House Democratic legislator and even most rank and file Republican legislators." Jackson said that public Town Hall meetings held in Flagstaff last May were an attempt to include the public in the "House Republican closed-door process."
Jackson also said he was not surprised by the leader's initial budget proposal. "It did exactly what many of us feared: it balanced the budget on the backs of women, children and families, hurt education, and it put the economic recovery of the state at risk." He said that Senate amendments reinstated more than $200 million in critical education and health programs, and he contends that another $100 million in federal matching funds was nearly lost through short-sighted House Republican leadership cuts.
Nevertheless, Senate efforts to repair the holes punched in essential education and health funding resulted in serious cuts in other areas. "No good can come from a compromise that openly attacks children, families and education, and has a disproportionate impact on tribal programs. When Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano signed the $6.4 billion budget bills, she vetoed 35 items where Republicans had cut $65 million."
Jackson says funding for vaccines, dental care, mental health care services and programs were among the cuts she vetoed. She also reinstated $15 million for Child Protective Services caseworkers. "She managed to put the needed funding back and keep the budget balanced by postponing paying $75 million for a class-action lawsuit judgment that isn't due until 2005," he points out.
Jackson says he supports Napolitano's efforts although he does not believe that the final budget was ideal. "This was not the budget the people of Arizona need and expected us to deliver," he stated. "Even as a compromise, I voted against that original main appropriation budget bill because it lacked the practical vision for both short term and long term fiscal measures to return the state to fiscal sanity and prepare us for the economic growth and progress that the Governor and House Democrats have been calling for all along."
Jackson further stated that both he and State Senator Jack Jackson Sr. voted in favor of the education, health and welfare policy budget bills that allow appropriated monies to be spent. He believes that these are the primary bills that protect critical funding for District 2. Jackson also sharply criticized Rep. Sylvia Laughter, D-District 3, Kayenta, for being absent during the final vote. "We both felt the bills had significant benefit to the tribes and to children attending school in Flagstaff. Thankfully, the bills that contained important provisions for the tribes and Flagstaff passed without her," he said.
Jackson says that through the final budget revisions, legislators were able to make changes to six major proposals that would have had a severe impact on American Indians within the state. These changes included:
*Removing language in the Senate originally included by House Republicans that would have cut $1.75 million to Din? College and eliminated the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs.
*Obtaining an extension from six to 12 months for the Sage Medical Center to bill AHCCCS (State Medicaid), ensuring a fair chance for the facility to be compensated for already provided service.
*Reinstating funding for Tuberculosis Provider Care and Control Programs to the counties. The program provides direct therapy to patients who are at risk of not completing treatment, provides reimbursement to hospitals and physicians for the care of hospitalized TB patients, and assists county health departments with local TB control programs.
*Reinstating Early Childhood Block grants and saving more than $600,000 for all day kindergarten and other K-3 programs to schools on the Navajo Nation.
*Saving funding for the Coordinated Hunger program within DES (Department of Economic Stability). If this fund would have been eliminated, the only two food banks serving Coconino County and Northern Arizona tribes would have closed.
*Securing a provision allowing the Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) to repay the Superintendent of Public Instruction over a five-year period amounts that were miscalculated in the school district's fiscal year 2001 - 2002 budget. Without this language, FUSD would have had to repay all of the money in fiscal year 2003 - 2004, resulting in significant reductions in classroom spending, including layoffs and elimination of programs.
State Senator Jack Jackson Sr., House Representative Jack Jackson Jr., and House Representative Sylvia Laughter, all members of the Navajo Nation provide an essential voice for the state's 22 American Indian tribes.