Plan would make oil companies fill budget gap

Posted: Tuesday, October 01, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Republican Moderate state House candidate Ray Metcalfe has resurrected his old plan for closing Alaska's fiscal gap by boosting taxes on oil companies. The proposal is drawing some support from three other small political parties.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Metcalfe distributed an updated version of his plan at a press conference last week attended by representatives of the Alaskan Independence, Green and Libertarian parties. The AIP formally endorsed Metcalfe's ideas. The Greens' candidate for governor supports it. The Libertarians like some parts of the plan.

In a nutshell, Metcalfe argues Alaska lets the companies producing oil here make too large a profit.

"This profit is created by government and, in nearly every place but Alaska, it is kept by government. We've been giving most of ours to BP, ARCO, Phillips and Exxon for over 20 years," Metcalfe said in a prepared statement.

He said OPEC countries take a far larger tax bite out of the industry - up to 85 percent. Alaska could bankroll the state budget for years to come by increasing its take and plowing all the proceeds into the Alaska Permanent Fund, which would become an endowment fund with a fixed rate of interest paying for government services, he said.

Metcalfe says he would couple this plan with a constitutional amendment protecting the permanent fund from "raids" by the Legislature and encourage more in-state petrochemical manufacturing.

Oil industry officials argue the cost of finding and recovering oil is far higher in Alaska and they couldn't afford to do it if the state raised taxes. Metcalfe says he doesn't believe that.

Neither does the AIP. On Friday, AIP District 16 state House candidate Larry Wood said Metcalfe is right about OPEC getting a better deal.

"These are literally colonial economics that Alaska is suffering, and it's got to stop," he said.

In a written statement, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Diane Benson also backed the idea.

"Neither the administration nor the Legislature seem to know where we stand in relation to other oil-producing regions in the world, and they don't have the guts to ask," she said.

Benson said using some of Alaska's oil and gas for "value added" manufacturing would create jobs here rather than in other states and countries.

Gordon Hartlieb, Libertarian Party chairman and a state House candidate in District 26, said the party hasn't taken a formal position on Metcalfe's plan, but several members are interested in his ideas for the permanent fund.

That oil tax, though, is a different matter.

"Our position is we want to avoid, or at least not add, any new taxes," Hartlieb said.

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