Just a month into the session, Zach Fansler, state House Representative for District 38, visited the YK Delta over the weekend to do a check-in with his constituency. On Saturday he spoke to a crowd of people in Bethel, and traveled to the nearby village of Napaskiak on Sunday. KYUK’s Adrian Wagner attended those meetings and has more.
At both meetings this weekend, Zach Fansler said that one of his goals at the legislature was to dispel the myth that Western Alaska is subsidized by urban Alaska.
“We’re trying to get that message out there; sometimes it’s hard to argue with a brick wall," Fansler said.
Fansler ties this to an argument for an income tax, which is in the House majority’s current budget plan. Fansler said that he fears pushback from urban Senators that say Western Alaska is already getting more state benefits than other places, a statement that Fansler disagrees with. He says that federal funding is behind much of what rural Alaska gets, unlike urban areas.
“All of their programs are being subsidized by the state, where we’re being subsidized by a little state and a lot of federal," Fansler said.
A Permanent Fund dividend cut was mentioned by people. Fansler says that he's against cutting the dividend for people in Western Alaska, but the majority has made such a cut part of its fiscal plan.
Another piece of legislation he wanted people to pay attention to was a proposed gas tax increase from the
Governor’s office that would triple the tax on fuel. Gas is already pricey in the Delta, but the biggest issue Fansler had with the tax was where the money ends up: a designated fund for road improvements.
“Well, we don’t have a lot of state roads of here and that means, once again, we will be subsidizing the Mat-Su Valley," Fansler said.
In both meetings, the effects of drugs and alcohol were discussed at length. In Napaskiak, Tribal Administrator Sharron Williams appealed to Fansler about the adverse effects of Bethel’s liquor store on her village.
“Why don’t we do something to prevent repeat offenders getting that alcohol," Williams said.
Williams suggested tribes denying criminals the right to buy alcohol, which Fansler said was a good idea, though the jurisdiction still remains to be worked out.
“We want to make sure that that’s legal, and if it’s not, we want to figure out a way to make it legal," Fansler replied.
Along the lines of village safety, Fansler said that the Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) program could be up for a change.
“There is a white paper that is floating around the capital. It’s kind of a theoretical idea, so to speak, of possibly making the VPSOs state employees," said Fansler.
VPSOs would get paid directly by the State, instead of by regional non-profits using state grants, which would mean less program control for those non-profits. Some fear that this could be the first step towards cutting the program all together. Others point out that it could improve the benefits that VPSOs receive. No legislation has been drafted on this issue yet.
Fansler encouraged public testimony as the most powerful tool people could use to effect change, and said that he hopes people will stay in touch with him and the other legislators through phone and e-mail.
Correction: Sharron Williams was referred to as the City Administrator, she is actually the Tribal Administrator. This correction has been made.