When Gov. Sarah Palin called a special legislative session to revamp the state's oil tax, freshman Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, and a handful of other legislators began a crash course on how the oil business works and Alaska's role in it.
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At stake: Thousands of jobs in the oil industry and in state government. If not the future of the state, at least the next 10 years, as Prudhoe Bay production declines with age and the state awaits development of its huge gas reserves.
Doll wasn't involved in last year's contentious and lengthy debates over the Petroleum Profits Tax. But she said she's confident the state made the right decision in passing the reforms the Republican governor requested.
"I feel like Alaskans have taken back their resources and responsibility for them," she said.
Building the confidence for that vote was what she learned in the process, after sitting through hours of committee testimony from industry executives, experts and Alaska citizens.
Doll wasn't on any of the three House committees through which Palin's Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share bill moved on its way to the House floor. But with no other issue before the Legislature, the Juneau legislator was a fixture in the meeting rooms where the bill was being crafted for those final votes.
One of the things she learned about the Petroleum Profits Tax on one of the first days of the session proved to be crucial.
Doll said she was shocked when Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin said the state had adopted the tax without knowing what the industry's costs - and hence, its profits - were.
"The reason he didn't have the answers was because we'd never needed the answers," she said.
She wound up backing the administration's request to give the state stronger tools to demand information from the state's oil producers about their North Slope answers.
"We had to step up and be knowledgeable about our resource," she said.
Doll's vote, and the background she learned early on, became vitally important in the last days of the session, when the bill hit the House floor.
Some Democrats led by Minority Leader Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, switched from support for a gross tax to agreement to back a net tax, but they had one condition. They wanted operating costs for the huge Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk fields fixed at their 2006 level for three years.
During that time, Kerttula and others hope the state will be able to develop the ability to make knowledgeable estimates of costs into the future.
Kerttula's standard deduction amendment passed 21-19, with Doll voting in favor of it. Some members of the House leadership who opposed the standard deduction persuaded Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, to change her vote against the amendment, but Kerttula found another vote for the amendment, and it again passed 21-19.
Doll said what she learned sitting through those hearings in the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas gave her the confidence to cast a crucial but controversial vote.
"It's not a matter of is this how I want to spend my day," she said. "It's this is how you have to spend your day."
Kerttula remembers back to when she was elected to the Legislature 10 years ago and said she has been impressed with Doll's actions so far.
"She really does work hard," she said.
Some legislators bragged about not getting any information from lobbyists or outside committee meetings, but Doll met with industry, with consultants and constituents, and developed her own opinions.
"She's very independent in the way she goes about getting information," Kerttula said. "She really does think for herself."
Doll said her contacts from the public were split on the issue, with many people voicing concerns from the oil industry about taxes being raised. At the same time, many Juneau residents urged her to support a gross tax, she said.
"There's a lot of fear out there among people that this is a take, take, take tax, that we're taking from the golden goose, but they're not seeing the various credits and incentives we're doing for exploration, especially for new fields," she said.
Doll said she was gratified that in the end there has been strong community support for the Legislature's action.
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.
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