ANCHORAGE — Three former Alaska officials were announced Thursday as sponsors of a referendum to repeal a tax cut for oil companies operating in the state.
Former state Sen. Vic Fischer, former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond and former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker were named referendum sponsors at a Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway press conference outside the Robert J. Atwood state office building.
Fischer, a Democrat from Anchorage, also was a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention. He called the tax cut approved on the last day of the 2013 legislative session “unconstitutional and anti-constitutional” because it fails to manage the state’s natural resources for the maximum benefit of its residents.
The constitution he helped write requires that the legislature manage resources for the maximum benefit of the people, he said.
“This means for maximum benefit of Alaskans, not oil companies, not other absentee owners,” he said.
The measure approved by the Republican-dominated legislature and strongly endorsed by Gov. Sean Parnell is an overhaul of Alaska’s oil tax structure aimed at getting more production and investment. Supporters consider it an investment in Alaska’s future. The claimed they could not stand by as oil production diminished.
Opponents, however, attacked the bill because there was no guarantee of additional investment or production. They complained about the quality of information provided by proponents and questioned whether its effects were understood. Parnell pushed the bill unsuccessfully last year but pressed it through with new faces in both the House and the Senate. Of a possible referendum, he said Monday, “I think the referendum was last November.”
Former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick, author of “Crude Dreams: A Personal History of Oil and Politics in Alaska,” said at the press conference Thursday he doubted the tax break would have the proponents’ desired effect of additional production by BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
“They will produce the same oil,” Roderick said. “They will do it probably a little quicker, but only a little quicker, and that is not in the interest of the state.”
Fischer said the result of the measure is that Alaska will have to dig into its reserves to make up for billions in lost state revenue “We will have to reduce money that goes into education and everything else, the roads and so on, and we’ll probably see a reduction in jobs because the money we’re giving away is not committed to be spent in Alaska.”
The major oil companies, he said, are not focusing on exploration, or developing unconventional Alaska energy resources such as heavy oil or shale oil. “All they will do at this point is pretend they’re doing more investment, that they’re doing new things to bring more oil into production,” he said. “In fact, all that they’re doing at most is milking the fields that are already in production.”
The group faces an uphill battle. To put a referendum on the ballot, sponsors must clear the measure with the lieutenant governor’s office, wait for signature books to be printed and then collect more than 30,000 signatures before a 90-day deadline that began Sunday, the last day of the legislative session.