My Turn: The hard truth about our oil revenue

Imagine your family’s biggest source of income plummeting by 80 percent in one year. At today’s oil prices, that’s Alaska’s situation. The state’s oil and gas production tax is expected to bring the state $524 million in the current fiscal year, a shocking drop from the $2.6 billion collected last year.

But that’s only part of the story. The state offers tax credits to oil and gas companies as a way to encourage investment that will, it is hoped, increase oil production. Once all the credits are factored in, our production tax is expected to generate negative returns to the state. You read that right: this year, for the first time in state history, we are making less than zero from a tax meant to compensate Alaska for the taking of its oil resources.

How is this situation possible? The Alaska Department of Revenue projects the state will pay $625 million to producers through various oil and gas production credits. Subtract that from $524 million in production tax revenue, and we’re about $100 million in the red. Next year, the problem is expected to worsen, with the state netting negative $400 million on what has traditionally been our biggest source of unrestricted revenue.

I have learned these bitter facts over the past few weeks, and I feel obliged to tell Alaskans the hard truth. As for how we got here, it appears to be a combination of tax breaks and credits, and a tax structure that magnifies the state’s losses at low oil prices. The last oil tax rewrite occurred during a period of sustained high oil prices, and there was little consideration given to the low-price scenario.

I remember when my parents and their neighbors fought for statehood so Alaskans could control our resources. I think we can all agree that an oil production tax that nets negative returns to the state does not meet Alaska’s constitutional mandate to develop our resources for the maximum benefit of the people.

I support the philosophy behind tax incentives; I want to encourage companies to invest in Alaska. But giving away more in tax breaks than we collect is irresponsible and unsustainable. It’s like working a job and having more income withheld from your paycheck than you earn. It just doesn’t make sense.

You elected me to offer forward-looking, straight-talking leadership free of political partisanship. I take my duty as a steward of Alaska’s future very seriously. We must address our current fiscal crunch from all angles — including reining in spending and thoughtfully assessing our revenue stream.

Our state has tremendous assets. We have wisely built significant savings. We have abundant natural resources. We have the resilience and resourcefulness of the Alaskan people.

I look forward to working with the Legislature and all Alaskans to stabilize our financial health and secure our future.

• Bill Walker is governor of Alaska.

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