Alaska editorial: Palin's push for analysis of the oil tax feels rushed

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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One of the worst ways to inspire confidence in government is to be perceived as doing a rush job on a matter of public policy.

Yet that's the feeling emanating from the effort of Gov. Sarah Palin's people to complete an analysis of the new petroleum profits tax. What seems to be guiding the Palin team is a desire to get something done in time to have a special session this fall to consider any possible changes to the tax.

What should be the course, however, is to have an analysis that is ready when it's ready. That means allowing time for a complete review, in a unrushed manner, and then asking the Legislature to consider any changes.

If that request for changes happens to come in the regular legislative session, so be it.

If it means the Legislature extends the regular session past its 90-day limit, so be it.

If it means holding a special session after the regular session, so be it.

It's unsettling to learn the administration has put out, on short order, a request for a consultant to help the administration complete it's review. The governor's people put out the request earlier this month asking for a consultant to help them understand how Alaska's oil-tax regime compares with tax systems of oil and gas producing regions elsewhere in the world.

They wanted to issue a contract Friday, however, and wanted a report from the consultant within a week.

That sure feels like a rush job.

It's disconcerting, too, to read comments from Revenue Department officials saying that they are under time pressure to provide the governor a completed review. Phrases such as "Working like mad" and "we tried to juggle things the best we can" don't inspire confidence.

All of this comes squarely from the governor's apparent desire to call the Legislature into special session this fall.

But why the rush? Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin recently said that the department's broader review of the oil tax has, so far, not uncovered any major flaws with the tax mechanism passed during the tenure of Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Yet a clear and compelling reason - such as a major flaw - must exist before the Legislature is summoned into special session on a topic as complex and politically volatile as the oil tax. That's because revisiting the tax is not simply a matter of introducing a couple of changes, having a perfunctory hearing or two, and then adjourning so that everyone can go back home and prepare for winter.

No, reopening the tax debate will bring out the major oil company executives and industry consultants, who will need to be given time to present their views.

Representatives of small companies will want to express themselves on whatever changes are proposed. And maybe even plain ol' Alaskans will want to say a thing or two.

Revisiting the oil tax would be a big deal, so the governor will need to be on solid ground if she decides to tell Alaskans that changes need to be made.

And that's why there can be no perception of an analysis being a rush job.

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