Fighting absentee control of our natural resources has been one of the main themes of the referendum to repeal SB 21, the oil tax reform bill signed into law by Gov. Sean Parnell. Constitutional Convention delegate Vic Fisher, Rep. Beth Kerttula and former First Lady Bella Hammond have all reminded us how significant the issue was during the drive for statehood. At that time, politicians in our nation’s capital were accused of treating Alaska like a colony by crafting legislation that benefited their wealthy constituents to the detriment of the territory’s citizenry. What’s different today is that we don’t have an “inferior political status” that brought about our “inferior economic status.”
The words quoted are from Ernest Gruening’s address to the delegates of Alaska’s constitutional convention in 1955. It’s fitting to study that speech as we approach Independence Day, for he invoked many of the grievances immortalized in America’s Declaration of Independence. After reciting the first — “He has refused assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” — Gruening explained that King George’s “contemporary equivalent” was the federal government that ruled Alaska for “political, strategic and economic advantage.”
But unlike the rebellious colonists of 1776, Alaskans weren’t fighting the President, Congress and their colonial enforcers to become a nation independent from the United States. They wanted to join the union. With statehood came Alaska’s opportunity to establish an equal political voice among the states. And given the $45 billion dollars resting comfortably in our Permanent Fund today it would seem the state’s economic inferiority is also a thing of the past.
If that’s true though, shouldn’t Gov. Parnell have been in a position of political strength when considering the need for oil tax reform? It certainly should have afforded the patience for him and us all to measure the real long term impact of the infant-like Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) tax.
The truth is Parnell never even put up a fight. He blamed ACES for the decline in oil production despite the fact it had been steadily dropping since the late 1980s. He ignored evidence from his own Department of Labor that showed an increase of jobs on the North Slope after ACES was implemented. And he didn’t listen to small operators like Dan Donkel, of Donkel Oil and Gas LLC, who testified that “ACES is generous in comparison to the majority of the tax regimes around the world.”
Donkel has spent 30 years working in Alaska’s oil industry. In April he told the House Resources Committee “the only thing SB 21 will produce is a windfall profit and a tighter lock on the North Slope for the majors.” And he added “it may well put me and everyone like me out of business.”
That doesn’t sound like job creation. So why is our governor issuing dire warnings to voters that signing the referendum petition is “likely to have a chilling effect on jobs?”
It’s because he’s in campaign mode, which is why he’s also showing a lack of patience for finding proof that his boastfully labeled “More Alaska Production Act” is a success. The problem is he’s propagandizing the major oil producers’ press releases that are suddenly pledging new investments on the North Slope. He’s glossing over the fact that that BP’s billion dollar plan will be spread over five years. And he’s failed to inform Alaskans that ConocoPhillips efforts to develop the Greater Moose’s Tooth unit began back in 2009 just after Sarah Palin left office.
What would the big three be doing if Palin hadn’t resigned less than a year after her vice-presidential candidacy? I’m guessing she would have rebuffed any lobbying led initiative for a legislative rollback of ACES. She would have gained popularity for standing strong. And she would have given small operators and the people of Alaska an equal voice in the debate.
“In the ‘50s, Alaskans worked to get statehood to get away from absentee control of Alaska resources,” Vic Fisher said as the “Repeal the Giveaway “referendum was launched. Parnell’s act hasn’t lived up to that legacy. He’s let the majors unduly influence the oil tax debate as if Alaska is an oil colony for them to rule for the economic benefit of their shareholders.
• Moniak is a Juneau resident.