The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for the Alaska Legislature in Southcentral Alaska to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Zack Fields | Democrat | Occupation: Legislator, union organizer | Age: 36 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Special assistant to labor commissioner; congressional aide; local government aide | https://zackforalaska.blogspot.com/
Why are you running for office?
Fight to make Alaska the best possible place to live, work, and raise a family.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life in Alaska. In addition to ongoing public health threats, the state has seen serious, long-term impacts to its economy and jobs, education system, tourism and the ability for residents to travel. Have state leaders handled the pandemic effectively? Explain.
Alaska has COVID-19 infection rates that are orders of magnitude higher than neighboring jurisdictions and than developed countries. So on a factual level, no: The Dunleavy and Trump administrations have failed. The Municipality of Anchorage has stepped up and prevented ICUs from being overwhelmed, but local mandates alone are not sufficient to bring infection rates down to levels that would allow reopening of schools and other businesses with indoor congregation. A cursory glance at Canada, Germany, Norway, or any other number of developed countries with infection rates <1/100,000 shows that Alaska has failed because the Governor (and certainly Trump) refuse to implement proven public health measures like mask mandates. The House State Affairs and House Health and Social Services Committees have held numerous hearings where public health experts and workplace safety experts have provided clear, consistent input on what the state should be and is not doing.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
As economists have testified, containing the virus is essential to economic recovery. So first, implement effective public health policies. Second, get CARES relief on the street. The administration imposed unworkable requirements on small business relief, which it finally eliminated. Now the question is, how much of the $300+ million to HSS COVID will not actually be spent by December 31 and can be reprogrammed for economic relief?
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
1) Fiscal stability. If the PFD raiders succeed, it will gut Downtown, not just with job losses but also by destroying local government’s ability to fund public safety.
2) Crime and vagrancy. We need to be tough on crime (done) and get at the root of homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, and we’ve only begun to address those issues.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We face a $500-600 million deficit without a PFD. We have two choices: Take a PFD holiday and implement a modest sales or income tax or higher oil taxes, which would achieve a balanced budget that protects the structured draw and our Permanent Fund savings. Alternately, the legislature could implement two revenue measures to raise enough to pay a modest PFD and maintain basic services and the Permanent Fund. Since it is fairly illogical to take money from people’s right pocket and put it back in the left with cash handouts, to me it makes more sense to implement the most modest revenue necessary to balance the budget while protecting Constitutionally-mandated programs like schools and public safety.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent Fund has become what Jay Hammond and others envisioned: A renewable resource that our low-population depends on to sustain our population and economy. We must protect the Fund and not allow raiders to spend down our savings with unaffordable PFDs. Draining the fund today only means a fiscal death spiral and the death of PFDs in the very near future. We must make reality-based decisions and not drain Alaska’s trust fund.
The state is projecting a $2.3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year if the Permanent Fund dividend is paid using the traditional formula in state law. If no dividend is paid, the deficit would be about $300 million. Do you support cutting services to pay a larger dividend? If so, what services would you cut first?
This question is an inaccurate representation of the choices we face. There are no major cuts to services left that have any public support. Our budget is the leanest in decades, and the only major cost savings opportunities in terms of cuts are shutting down whole UA campuses, closing the Pioneer Homes, or eliminating the Marine Highway entirely. Even those cuts couldn’t pay for a supersized PFD. Only by draining the Permanent Fund and forever impoverishing the state could the legislature fund short-term supersize PFDs, and that would be a terribly short-sighted decision that I will oppose vigorously.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
We need to recruit and retain great teachers and give them the freedom to teach--not merely to the latest standardized test. We also need to support integration of Alaska Native languages in schools where those languages are part of the community. Culturally-relevant education is essential for students to be engaged and have strong outcomes in rural schools.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
First, the University must perform its fundamental role as Alaska’s only major four-year university, which means offering outstanding liberal arts programs. The history of western civilization in the last two hundred years shows how essential these programs are.
The University should aggressively seek to reduce administrative bureaucracy, including on “workforce” programs that are not actually coordinated with major employers. For too long, the University has tried to grab turf from AVTEC and other programs that are most closely linked to employment.
Finally, the University must maintain its excellence in research, particularly in areas where it has a competitive advantage, like climate science.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Fiscal stability and protection of the Permanent Fund is the most important thing, because without that we can’t adequately fund law enforcement. Second, we need more functional substance abuse and mental health treatment programs. Third, we need to empower tribes. If the state will not provide law enforcement in some communities, we must allow tribes to exercise their power under established case law to improve public safety.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
As economists have stated, we live in an environment where highly productive individuals choose where to live based on quality of life. Anchorage and many other Alaska communities have a comparative advantage in high wages, affordable housing, high quality public education, affordable higher education, short commutes, and unparalleled recreational resources. We should capitalize on these assets to recruit and retain smart people who will innovate and create jobs and businesses. Better to attract smart people than have the state clumsily finance half-baked business ideas through corporate subsidies.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I’m opposed to it based on impact on commercial and subsistence fisheries. Our state depends on the Bristol Bay fishery, both culturally and economically, and it would be short sighted to kill that golden goose.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
The Alaska legislature has a long tradition of bipartisanship, and regardless of whether I disagree with other legislators on individual policies, I believe our commitment to partnership across party lines is essential if our state is to navigate these challenging fiscal circumstances.
Recently, one party has tried to purge elected officials who work across party lines, and replace thoughtful legislators with individuals who will rubber-stamp the Governor’s agenda. That is reckless and inconsistent with the clear Constitutional vision of the United States and Alaska. Our democracy depends on a balance of power among the Governor, legislature, and independent judiciary, and we must remain faithful to that Constitutional framework established by our founders.
Alaska is a remarkable place. Our Constitution safeguards our economic and civil liberties. This is still a state where hard work gets results, including for blue-collar workers. We work together and have resisted the false divisions and toxic partisanship that is destroying our national government. Let’s work together to keep Alaska an exceptional, prosperous place.