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Oil tax cutback bill heads to several Senate committees

Labor & Commerce committee will study employment claims

Posted: April 4, 2011 - 9:04pm

The 2011 legislative session’s most controversial piece of legislation, the proposed rollback of the state’s Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share, or ACES, oil tax law, heads next to the Senate’s Labor and Commerce Committee.

The chairman of that committee said the panel will study the bill’s potential impacts on jobs.

“I’m really enthused to have the bill in Labor & Commerce,” said the committee’s chair, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

Reducing oil taxes by billions of dollars over the next several years is a priority of Gov. Sean Parnell. The bill passed the House of Representatives 22-16 last week.

Among the key issues of debate in the House were allegations of job losses caused by ACES.

Egan said his committee’s primary job will be to explore ACES’ impact on jobs. State employment data show oil and gas jobs up substantially in recent years, and near an all-time high.

But impassioned testimony and debate in the House described rampant job losses and blamed them on ACES.

“There have been a lot of concerns about some of the things that have been said in other committees, and were going to have the labor commissioner come and tell us about employment in the state’s oil patch,” Egan said.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, Monday referred the bill to three committees. It will go to the Senate Resources Committee after Egan’s committee, and then to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Legislature’s presiding officers sometimes use committee referrals to delay or speed a bill along.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, an ACES critic, referred the bill to two committees. Stevens, an ACES supporter, referred it to three, a difficult hurdle with only two weeks left in the regular session.

Monday, influential Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, called out the Senate for its slow action on the oil tax cuts he supports.

“The Senate doesn’t do anything quickly,“ he said. “If I were drowning, I’m not sure that’s the life ring I would expect,” he said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula said she was happy to see House Bill 110 in fellow Juneau Democrat Egan’s committee.

“I’m sure that he’ll do a thorough job and I believe we’ll start getting some real facts about the legislation on the record,” she said.

She said the oil tax cut Parnell touts as bringing the state more jobs would actually cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue, and many jobs as well.

“The bill proposes major cuts (in revenue), and they’d probably have to hit teachers, government workers, probably a lot of municipal workers,” Kerttula said.

Egan said he expects the committee’s first hearing on the bill to take place Friday.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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