Leman certifies initiatives on oil tax, shorter sessions

Measures would be dropped from ballot if Legislature OKs bills taking similar action

Posted: Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Monday certified two initiatives sponsored by state lawmakers for November's election.

One initiative would impose a tax on oil companies who do not develop the natural gas reserves for which they hold leases. The second would reduce the length of legislative sessions from 121 days to 90 days.

The initiatives will go on the Nov. 7 ballot unless the Legislature passes substantially similar bills. Both initiatives have accompanying bills that have made little progress in the Legislature this session.

"I only went to the ballot as a last alternative when the Legislature wouldn't consider it," said Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, who is sponsoring the gas-reserves tax along with Reps. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.

Croft, who is running for governor this year, said his bill would take $1 billion from the industry every year a natural gas pipeline is not built. Once North Slope gas begins flowing to market, the money would be returned without interest as tax credits.

Gov. Frank Murkowski said a deal in principle has been struck with ConocoPhillips, BP PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp. on fiscal terms for recovering the North Slope gas. The deal is seen as a key step in building a $25 billion natural gas pipeline to Canada and markets in the Midwest.

Even if the contract is ratified by the Legislature, the reserves tax will still provide a good incentive, Croft said.

"If we get a good gas line deal that's fair to Alaska and has firm commitments to actually build the gas line, this just simply provides an additional emphasis for them to not put it off," Croft said.

Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, is the primary sponsor of the 90-day session initiative. He said reducing the length of time the Legislature meets in Juneau will result in fewer and better laws.

"Adding value to the time adds value to the process," Ramras said.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, another sponsor of the initiative, said he disagreed with opponents of the measure who say shortening the Legislature's session would give the governor more power.

"Where does this give the governor any more power?" Wagoner said. "You can't give the governor any more power than he already has."

Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, is the third sponsor of the initiative.

To get their initiatives on the ballot, petitioners needed to collect at least 31,450 signatures from registered voters, which is 10 percent of last election's turnout.

The signatures were turned in before the Jan. 9 start of the legislative session.

The Division of Elections by Monday qualified 31,965 signatures for the 90-day initiative, enough for Leman to certify the initiatives, but was continuing to authenticate the rest.

The division by Monday had qualified 32,056 signatures for the gas-reserves initiative by Monday.

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