Dear Neighbor,

Alaska’s House of Representatives has finalized an operating budget after rejecting amendments to fund literacy, child care, Pre-K, and a range of public health programs designed to reduce the rate of child trauma and abuse. With Alaska children facing the highest rate of abuse and sexual assault and some of the lowest reading preparedness rates in the U.S., why would a slim majority of legislators reject funding for programs that most voters see as common sense? The answer is simple: Allocation of approximately a billion extra dollars for a mega-PFD is crowding out investment for literacy and health programs that are orders of magnitude more affordable. If you want to understand why Alaska is squandering its wealth and falling farther behind in terms of economics, education, and health, this year’s budget deliberations illustrate it precisely. 

We could easily afford to pay a healthy PFD, and fund a great K-12 education system, and make investments in literacy and kids’ health that would ensure we never again are worst in the nation for indicators like child abuse. The math works, but the politics haven’t. 

Although a majority of legislators in the House are personally supportive of public education, the House leadership structured a budget around a $2,700 PFD that will costs the state $1.73 billion. The cost of going from a normal $1,000+ PFD to a mega-$2,700 PFD is over $1 billion. Following that decision, leadership bullied House majority members into rejecting these amendments that would have actually improved our state’s reading and public health outcomes: 

  • $15 million for child care grants, which according to providers would stabilize the labor force in the sector and ensure parents can access child care. 

  • $3.7 million for the Infant Learning Program and Help Me Grow, complementary programs that help kids catch up to their developmental milestones and enter school ready to learn. 

  • $320,000 for Imagination Library to ensure all eligible kids receive books in the mail to help families teach literacy at a young age. 

  • $14 million so every kid in Alaska could access Pre-K and enter kindergarten ready to learn. 

We should give credit where it’s due: The Alaska Department of Health, which under Governor Dunleavy has prioritized the Healthy Families initiative, has explained to legislators how programs like these will reduce child abuse and neglect—if we fund them adequately. 

The House majority initially included $175 million to reverse recent cuts in funding to K-12 education, then backtracked and used an unfunded Constitutional Budget Reserve draw to pay for this basic operations funding. Thus, K-12 education is sort-of-funded in the House budget, but the structure of that funding is designed to hold kids hostage in exchange for mega-PFDs. Note the differential in costs: Fully funding education and kids’ health programs is orders of magnitude cheaper than inflating the size of PFDs. 

This budget is out of line with most Alaskans’ values. If it was signed into law, we can anticipate what would happen: Alaska would continue to have worst-in-the-nation child abuse rates, and fall farther behind in reading readiness and educational attainment.  

In theory, the legislature could raise a massive amount of revenue to adequately fund services and massive dividends, but in the time I’ve been in the legislature there simply has not been a majority of legislators who think it makes sense to significantly increase taxes. I’m happy to vote on new taxes so we see whether the legislature as a whole will raise sufficient revenue for core services and large PFDs. Let’s cut through the rhetoric and take votes on revenue. That way, all Alaskans can watch and see if a majority of legislators vote to raise taxes. 

Thanks to Anchorage Museum for hosting the UAA Dance in Concert for First Friday

Until and unless such tax increases pass, the state Senate will have the task of aligning this year’s budget with Alaskans’ values. We can have a great school system, high rates of reading proficiency, safety for kids, and a normal PFD with current revenue. More revenue would be a good thing, but we can’t let our state continue spiraling downward while we wait for tax increases that may never materialize. 

Opportunity to Testify: Tonight from 5:15-8 pm, there will be an opportunity to testify against Governor Dunleavy's regressive House Bill 105.

See you around the neighborhood,


Representative Zack Fields - House District 17

Serving Downtown, South Addition, Forest Park, North Star, and Fairview