Empire editorial: Governor's tax bill reflects GOP values

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

Gov. Frank Murkowski took action - and criticism from fellow party members - this week for being true to his Republican roots.

Many Republicans seem to forget these days that the party was once the champion of fiscal conservatism and a laissez faire approach to business. Murkowski filed a bill this week that embodies just these values, and yet he came under fire from other members of the Grand Old Party.

The governor's legislation would wipe out certain Alaska tax deductions for industry that Congress approved last year. Most of these tax breaks would benefit the oil industry, and if enacted would cost the state roughly $100 million in the next nine years.

Critics have said that killing the new tax breaks sends the oil industry the message that Alaska is not friendly to industry.

But this is not as if the oil industry is suddenly going to lose more money under this legislation. Oil companies would still receive a new federal tax break, but Murkowski's bill would maintain existing state tax requirements and simply prevent the loss of millions of dollars of oil revenue the state now relies on. Many other state leaders may be ignoring Alaska's long-term fiscal problems, but the governor is not.

Some state leaders, such as Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, seem to think that being friendly to the oil industry means giving it as many breaks as possible regardless of how they hurt Alaska. One has to question whether Kohring's true loyalty is with Big Oil or the people of this state.

The governor changed the oil tax regime in February because an outdated law was giving the industry major tax breaks on new oil fields. That was an appropriate change and far from being an indication that Murkowski is turning his back on industry. He has supported the development of a gas line that could create about 8,500 new jobs in the state. And he has taken other pro-industry steps during his tenure, such as backing a 2003 bill to give companies tax credits for oil exploration.

Legislators should not be so eager to toady to the oil industry that they reject the governor's bill. Continuing to pay that $100 million over nine years is small potatoes to a multi-billion-dollar industry. But think how many dollars that is for the state's schools, public safety and other programs. Murkowski is trying to protect the income the state already receives and his bill deserves legislators' support.

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