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Governor, legislators trade jabs about 'lies'

Tense oil tax debates appear to heighten interbranch conflicts

Posted: March 2, 2012 - 12:12am
Commissioner of Revenue Bryan Butcher, right, and Gov. Sean Parnell respond to reporters' questions at a press conference Thursday about an oil tax bill working its way through the Legislature this session.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Commissioner of Revenue Bryan Butcher, right, and Gov. Sean Parnell respond to reporters' questions at a press conference Thursday about an oil tax bill working its way through the Legislature this session.

Gov. Sean Parnell denied Thursday his administration had lied to or attempted to mislead legislators about oil tax reduction bills, as the tense relationship between the governor and legislators grew increasingly rocky.

“I was extremely disappointed in the way several representatives impugned the motivations of my administration,” Parnell said.

Members of the House of Representatives were debating House Bill 118 late Wednesday evening when several said they’d been misled by the Parnell administration and Department of Revenue.

The bill, providing a research and development tax credit, was touted as a way to broaden the state’s oil-dependent economy away from oil. Instead, they said, they discovered the bulk of the benefit would go to big corporate taxpayers, ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon Mobil Corp.

Representatives from the Department of Revenue told legislators conflicting information about who could claim the research tax credits, and led them to believe the benefits wouldn’t go to oil companies.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, questioned how the misinformation came about.

He said he didn’t know “whether it was just sloppy work by the administration, or whether I was misled,” Gara said on the House Floor.

“Do people in this room really feel they were given an accurate presenting on this bill by the department?” he asked.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, said the Legislature was likely intentionally misled, and he didn’t trust either the Parnell administration or the Department of Revenue.

“I particularly don’t trust the department, because, frankly, they’ve lied to me,” he said.

The House’s rules of decorum generally bar personal attacks, but Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, didn’t address Doogan’s comments Wednesday night.

Parnell, a former legislator, said the concerned lawmakers handled their complaints poorly and violated their own rules.

“Usually when a legislator has a concern like that, where they feel like they’ve been given incorrect information and they think it’s intentional, they’ll call me, come see me,” he said.

Johnson didn’t return a message left with his office Thursday.

House Bill 118 passed 23-12, but has yet to go to the Senate. Juneau’s representatives split on it, with Republican Cathy Muñoz voting in favor and Democrat Beth Kerttula opposed.

Bryan Butcher, commissioner of the Department of Revenue, appeared with Parnell at the press conference and denied the accusations of lying.

“I have no information that we have ever been dishonest with anybody,” he said. “Certainly we have never lied to Rep. Doogan,” he said.

The conflict with the House members comes after an incident earlier this week when Parnell tried to rally oil industry opposition to a Senate oil tax bill that doesn’t provide as large a decrease in tax rates as he wants by referring to an earlier version of the bill and calling it a “tax increase.”

Senate President Gary Stevens called it “purely deceptive to say we’re trying to raise taxes” after a Department of Revenue analysis showed the bill would lower taxes.

Parnell said his statement addressed an older version of the bill, not a newer one.

“It was a moving target,” he said.

“I told the truth, the commissioner told the truth, we’re all here trying to get the job done for Alaskans,” he said.

Focusing on the conflicts won’t help the state, he said.

“The name calling needs to stop, we need to focus on bringing about solutions,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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