Alaska editorial: Governor deserves praise for his efforts

Posted: Monday, May 29, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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Yes, the headline may surprise some people, especially the governor who probably is more accustomed to being criticized in print.

But, it's time to give some credit where credit is due.

Gov. Frank Murkowski deserves a tip of the Alaska hard hat not only for bringing the issue of oil taxes to the political dinner table, but also for pushing to raise taxes. OK, not as much of a tax increase as many Alaskans would like, and no doubt some question his decision to push for a legislative promise of no further changes in oil taxes for 30 years. But at least Alaskans are talking openly about something that should have been on the agenda years ago.

That alone is a big step forward.

Restructuring the state's antiquated oil and gas production tax of yesterday for the higher prices and higher costs of today and tomorrow is a good move, long overdue. The governor, a staunch Republican, took a longtime Democratic issue and threw it in front of the Legislature, arguing it's a good time to fix the problem.

OK, so he pushed for higher oil taxes and accompanying investment tax credits after the major North Slope producers said they really wanted locked-in tax rates before they would proceed with a natural gas pipeline project. In exchange for that stability, they said they would be willing to pay a higher tax rate. At least the governor saw the opportunity for the state to grab a larger share of the cash flow at high oil prices.

It's just too bad his public announcements do not include an acknowledgement that Democratic legislators were right all along about the need to change the tax system. And an acknowledgment that maybe he was too quick to promise during his 2002 campaign for governor not to raise oil taxes. "That will be the first thing I oppose," he told an appreciative audience of Conoco Phillips employees on Oct. 23, 2002.

Politics aside, the governor now strongly believes he is doing the right thing at the right time, and is willing to apply all of his stubborn will to get it passed. With some meaningful changes, it will be good legislation for Alaska. It will bring more revenues to the state treasury and more investment on the North Slope.

And the governor is applying the same strong-willed determination in pushing for public acceptance and legislative approval of his draft contract with North Slope producers for a possible natural gas pipeline. There's a long way to go, however, before Alaskans can make an informed opinion about the complex deal. But what a dream to have. Meanwhile, higher market prices for natural gas have helped bring us closer than ever to seeing that gas line dream come true.

So despite the flaws in the proposed oil tax and gas line deal and some unfortunate public policy calls along the way, Gov. Murkowski deserves some credit. He is pushing for action on critical decisions that he believes will help build a stronger Alaska for decades.

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