The Division of Elections recently sent out a Ballot Measure pamphlet for the Aug. 19 primary. It’s all about the referendum to repeal to SB 21, the new oil tax regime which squeaked by the Legislature and was signed into law in 2013. It contains the full text of the law, which I’m guessing very few voters, like myself, will take the time to read because it’s language is over our heads. For many, it’s a matter of who we trust more, as we try to make sense of the choices facing us at the polls.
To begin, it’s worth reading the Legislative Affairs Agency summary of SB 21 contained in the pamphlet. The Divisions of Elections has given equal space to both sides by publishing statements in support and opposition to the measure. But that’s where equality ends, because the groups opposing the referendum have outraised those supporting it by more than 30-1. Hidden from voters in the pamphlet is the fact that BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil are the top contributors to “Vote No on 1,” the organization who prepared the opposition statement.
Now, why would the big three oil companies invest their money to influence the outcome of this vote? Obviously, it’s because they stand to increase their profits if SB 21 is upheld by voters. Sure, they’ll be bringing more jobs to the state if they develop new oil fields on the North Slope. But as independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stated in an Empire column last month, “the producers can take all of their tax savings out of Alaska because the tax concessions were not tied to any reinvestment in Alaska.”
But really, if I can’t wade through the language of the law, then all I am saying is that I trust people like Walker more than those influenced by the big oil companies, including Gov. Sean Parnell. This is because Walker is an attorney who owns an Anchorage law firm that focuses on oil and gas and municipal law, and in that capacity has represented the public’s interests. Parnell, on the other hand, served the oil companies before he was elected lieutenant governor, first as director of government relations in Alaska for ConocoPhillips, then briefly as a lobbyist for the firm that represented ExxonMobil in their fight against real Alaskans during Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation.
In a very different way, I don’t trust the reason businesses have joined the Vote No on 1 coalition. Take the Michael Baker Corporation as an example. The reason why they oppose the referendum has nothing to do with what’s best for Alaska. They’re a nationwide consulting engineering firm with a relatively small Anchorage office. Just as a wealthy individual or business might want political favors in return for donating to a candidate for public office, Baker might be afraid of losing contract opportunities with the big three oil companies by sitting on the sidelines. The same can be said for many other businesses that oppose the referendum.
I’m also not impressed with the people who have signed up to be part of Vote No on 1. I’ve looked at many of the You Tube videos on the Vote No on 1 website and haven’t seen any that offer real evidence as to why SB 21 will be good for the state economy. There’s even one small business owner who said “we’ve seen more (oil) production in the last year since SB 21 passed than we have in a long time.”
That claim is of course factually wrong. But sadly, being factually correct isn’t a prerequisite for political advertising. That’s why the Vote No on 1 campaign can put out a “Get the Facts” brochure that implies the voter’s choice is to either keep SB 21 or go back to ACES, the tax law that it replaced. The truth is, as Walker and other opponents of SB 21 have said, the Legislature needs to work harder to craft a better law.
With the kind of money Vote No on 1 has raised, they can produce volumes of ads without substance. As history has shown us, the side that raises the most money might usually win, but it never guarantees we’re electing the government that’s best for the people.
I’m voting “yes” on Ballot Measure 1 to send the Legislature and our next governor back to work to develop an oil tax law that’s better for all Alaskans.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.