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Governor bristles as legislator calls for more information on who drafted oil tax bill; Parnell feels his integrity is being questioned

Governor, legislator clash surfaces during commissioner confirmation

Posted: April 9, 2011 - 10:38pm
Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage
Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage

Gov. Sean Parnell is claiming his integrity has been challenged in a growing feud over who influenced the governor’s oil tax reduction bill.

The dispute became public earlier this week when Rep Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, became increasingly vocal about his ability to get information from the Parnell Administration.

Other legislators have expressed similar concerns.

Doogan, from his seat on the House Finance Committee and in Public Records Law requests, has sought to learn who Parnell met with to craft his House Bill 110, which would lower oil taxes on the industry by billions of dollars.

Parnell, in a letter to Doogan, said that his request for that information “implies that by meeting with representatives of the oil and gas industry, my administration has engaged in conduct that somehow compromises the integrity of the proposed legislation.”

Doogan said that when he asked Department of Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher, he believed that information would be provided.

After additional requests but still no information, Doogan said he filed a formal freedom of information request and was told the administration did not have a list of whom they’d met with. He called that “troubling.”

“Either they didn’t actually keep track of what companies they talked with, or they have a list and they just don’t want to give it to me,” Doogan said.

He described the Parnell administration’s response to his request as a “cone of silence.”

Parnell’s angry response to Doogan came in a letter Friday that said the administration was continuing to work on its response and “I take exception to these insinuations.”

Friday, Doogan cast a protest vote against the confirmation of Butcher as Revenue Commissioner to protest the lack of information.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he was starting to get information that the state’s big oil producers actually participated in writing the governor’s bill, but wasn’t yet sure enough of it to vote against Butcher.

“If that information does come to light, this whole body should be concerned,” Gara said.

Parnell said the bill was his administration’s work, and that to suggest anything else was “false and misleading.”

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, called the allegations “a swirl of innuendo and rumor,” that began with a conclusion seeking facts.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said he was having his own problems getting information from the Parnell administration.

A consultant working for Parnell told senators that the state needed more information about oil company decision making to base its analysis on, but Wielechowski said they have not been able to get more details on what’s needed.

“When the governor’s expert says Alaska is handicapped in our decision-making capacity, that sends up red flags.” Wielechowski said.

Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, defended Butcher, saying it was not his fault he couldn’t provide information.

“Quite frankly, he was restricted by existing state law which limited the amount of information he could convey to us.”

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, voted for Butcher, but she said she was troubled by the lack of response to the two questions. Butcher was approved 51-8.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the bill still has to go through the Senate Finance Committee, which he co-chairs. If the questions are not answered there, the bill will not move, he said.

“I don’t want the public getting the impression that the Legislature is going to work with two-thirds of the information,” he said.

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

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