When Governor Walker issued a press release on October 15th that stated “Governor Walker applauds effort to bring budget challenge to the classroom”, we had to ask what was the motivation for this. Is this a purely educational effort or is it a political ploy to spread the gospel of the Walker Administration? Interestingly enough, none of the major media outlets in the State picked up the story. Why not? This had to be great news for Alaska! Maybe the media also questioned the motives of the Administration and felt tinges of “1984”. We also have very strong reservations on the governor, any governor for that matter, using the public education system as a tool to promote an agenda.
Now don’t get us wrong. We do believe all Alaskans should be made aware of the fiscal condition of the state. However, there are acceptable channels of communication to use. Public school classrooms are not acceptable. Let’s look at the material that the students will be indoctrinated in.
The overall tone of the material is that Alaska has cut spending to the bone and we will probably need more revenue sources to fill the budget gap. Here is a quote from the governor’s press release:
“Background: Alaska’s current-year budget calls for spending of about $3 billion more than revenues – even after budget cuts of 19 percent (emphasis added)”
The current operating budget has only been cut about 9%, not the 19% the Administration touts. We call that shaping the battlefield of ideas and thought. So, students are to believe that the Alaska budget has been cut by a whopping 19% going into the discussion. Hopefully, the social studies teachers and students look at this number with a very critical eye. They should ask “how many funded, vacant positions are still on the books?”. How much do these positions cost the state? They should also ask: “How much has the state government grown in numbers and dollars since 2005?” rather than going all the way back to 1975 like the Administration does.
The educational materials begin by pointing out how much the state has restrained spending (#1: Continued Restraint on Spending). Once again, the reader is mislead by the Administration using a spending baseline of the early 1980s and comparing it to today’s spending. A more reasonable basis would be to compare 2005 spending to 2015 spending. This comparison would show that in fiscal year 2005 the Agency Operating Budget was $2.324 billion and that same budget was $4.513 billion in FY15 (source: Legislative finance). That is a 94% increase in the agency operating line item-that which funds the day-to-day operations of the state government. Those numbers have not been adjusted for inflation or population. If one looks at the education materials provided by the Administration one would see: ” it is important to recognize in any budget discussion that state budgets are not “bloated” in comparison with historical levels and there is likely very limited potential for further significant cuts…”. Here is the graph provided:
Why go all the way back to the 1970s when it is much more relevant to compare today’s spending to 2005’s spending. But it does make good talking points to convince students that the state has restrained spending and we cannot possibly cut the budget any more.
Now let’s cut out the clutter and look at the same graph with the earlier years cut out of the picture. Ignore the pipeline boom years. This is what students should be comparing to today’s budget.
The blue in the chart is the Agency Operations funding-that which the state has the flexibility to control. And this chart is adjusted for inflation and population just as the one above it. On can see the trend in spending is upward, especially since 2005, 10 years ago. And the 2005 budget is with the price of oil at about $30/barrel. Bottom line: The state has not restrained spending as the Administration contends in its materials to the students. As a matter of fact, state spending is up more than 94% since 2005. The Administration’s line is: we cannot cut our way out of the deficit. The goal is to protect the current spending and keep more than 20,000 employees on the state payroll.
Later on in the materials, the Walker Administration talks about putting a cap on the Permanent Fund Dividend. Here is a quote from the materials: “Thus it may be advisable to pursue a dividend cap sooner rather than later before these expectations (of bigger checks) materialize.”. The Walker Administration wants to cap PFDs at about $1,200 per person. That would “give” the government about $600 million to play with. The trouble with this cap is that it is set at a flat number, not a percentage of the PFD. In other words, say the PFD went up to $5,000. Then the government would get $3,800 and you would get the same $1,200. That’s very troubling. But that is how politics and bureaucrats work. Fund the government, and if there is any left over fund the PFD.
The Administration has a boatload of new taxes it puts on the table for discussion. And it does present pros and cons of each tax. Here is a list:
- Income Tax
- Capital Gains Surtax
- School Tax
- Sales Tax
- Statewide Property Tax
By now, you should get the picture and the intent of the Walker Administration. They are using school kids as tools to take the message to their neighbors, parents and others. We find this deplorable to use children to promote an agenda, one-sided at best. And, get this. Students have a homework assignment that requires them to take a survey home and spread the word. They also get extra credit if they post on the blog their results. Here are quotes from the documents:
This part of the assignment will ask you to complete some work at home with an adult in your community. Your investigation will help both you and the person you interview understand more about Alaska’s fiscal challenge. There is space for you to interview and collect opinions about what community members, business owners, neighbors, public servants, and political representatives think should be done in order to confront this challenge.
Find a learning partner to interview. They can be anyone from your community and preferably not your parent or guardian. Ask them the questions below and note their answers in the spaces provided. It may be useful to have them write down their answers, but it is also good practice for you to correctly record their thoughts and ideas. The more responses you obtain, the more perspective you will have on this issue. You may be able to identify some consensus upon which method may be best to solve our budget problems. Remember that you can refer back to AKfiscalfuture.org for information about Alaska’s budget.”
Apparently, students are missionaries to spread the word of the Administration. And they get rewarded for doing so. Besides, the governor has a free poll compliments of children.
Please contact the Anchorage School District to register your dissatisfaction with the government using our children to promote a political agenda. Kids should not be used as political tools, never.
Contact Anchorage School Board: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Contact ASD Superintendent Ed Graff: email@example.com