Shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Senate voted 11-9 to cut oil taxes, with Fairbanks Sens. Pete Kelly, John Coghill and Click Bishop endorsing a measure that would make Alaska operations more profitable for the major oil companies and reduce state revenue by billions of dollars over the next several years.
The supporters said that if the oil companies make more money in Alaska, they might reinvest more money and produce more oil, though the companies have made no promises.
The measure would need to be approved by the House before going to the governor. The deficit in the next fiscal year starting this summer could be more than $1 billion if the tax cut is approved.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Gary Stevens described his effort to put a 2017 sunset date on a plan to cut oil taxes as a "modest proposal."
Stevens and Sen.Bert Stedman both referred to the sunset date as an "escape clause," that would give the state a chance to see if cutting taxes would increase oil production.
"This may not work. I hope it does," Stevens said of the plan to cut oil taxes.
Opponents said that putting a sunset date on the tax cut would create instability for the oil industry. They also said that future lawmakers could change tax rules if they wish in 2017. Supporters of the Stevens amendment pointed out that one committee chairman has the power to stop almost any bill. That could work either way in 2017, depending upon the politics of the moment.
Kelly, Coghill and Bishop voted against the Stevens amendment, joining eight other senators in killing it. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, who represents the Goldstream area and a vast region of Alaska to the west and southwest, voted for the amendment.
On the final vote, the tax cut was supported by Kelly, Coghill and Bishop, as well as by Sens. Mike Dunleavy, Fred Dyson, Anna Fairclough, Cathy Giessel, Charlie Huggins, Lesil McGuire, Kevin Meyer and Peter Micciche.
Voting against the tax cut were Stevens, Stedman and Hoffman, as well as Sens. Donny Olson, Bill Wielechowski, Berta Gardner, Hollis French, Johnny Ellis and Dennis Egan.