Downtown Fairbanks

Few cars were spotted crossing the Cushman Street bridge in downtown Fairbanks on Sunday, March 29, 2020. Laura Stickells/News-Miner

Opponents of Ballot Measure 1, which would raise taxes on the oil industry, were invited to present their side to members of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce five times since February. The supporters were shut out.

On Oct. 6, the chamber hosted a panel discussion about the measure as a part of its election cycle series aimed at helping members “understand the choices on your 2020 ballot,” according to a description of its political forums.

Chamber President and CEO Marisa Sharrah said the format for the Oct. 6 online panel discussion was designed to align with the chambers’ views.

All of the panelists were critical of the measure. No supporter was invited to present their ideas.

The chamber describes its political forums as nonpartisan and objective.

A disclaimer attached to an online recording of the Oct. 6 panel discussion states: “The Chamber is nonpartisan in its approach, and does not endorse or oppose legislation based upon political party philosophies or political party sponsorship. Nor does the Chamber endorse or support candidates for public office. All elected officials are welcome to comment and provide information on legislative issues pending before the Chamber’s Committees and/or the Board or Directors.”

Former Fairbanks Sen. Joe Paskvan, a spokesman for Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, said the business organization does not wish for its members to hear information supporting the tax increase.

ConocoPhillips Alaska, BP Alaska and Hilcorp, the companies financing the OneALASKA—Vote No on 1 campaign, are members of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Paskvan, a former chamber member, said he was invited to present on Sept. 1 but that the presentation was canceled.

“They made an affirmative decision to exclude the Fair Share Act information,” Paskvan said.

Ballot Measure 1 would increase oil and gas production taxes to a minimum of 10% from a minimum of 0% to 4% on the state’s three largest and most profitable oil fields: the Prudhoe Bay Unit, the Kuparuk River Unit and the Colville River Unit.

According to Sarah Erkmann Ward, an Anchorage public relations professional who facilitates media requests for the OneALASKA campaign, the group presented information to Fairbanks chamber members on Feb. 11, July 28, Sept. 9, Sept. 17 and Oct. 6.

Paskvan complained about being excluded in a letter to the editor published in the Daily News-Miner on Aug. 30.

“It is a sad day when the chamber puts a knee on the neck of information that could be provided on the Vote Yes on 1 for Alaska’s Fair Share, a citizens initiative so important to Alaska’s future,” he wrote.

Paskvan said one person, Bill Bailey, from the chamber contacted him in response to the letter.

Bailey, who works for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and is an appointed member to the chamber board of directors, told Paskvan he thought the phrase “knee on the neck” was racially insensitive, Paskvan said.

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, was a presenter during the Oct. 6 online panel discussion about Ballot Measure 1 hosted by the chamber.

She said she is happy to debate proponents of the ballot measure anytime and has appeared with Paskvan before other organizations, such as Fairbanks area Rotary clubs, that requested to hear from both sides.

Moriarty wrote in an email that she doesn’t find it unusual that the supporting position on the ballot measure was not presented to Chamber of Commerce members.

“I will say OneALASKA—Vote No on 1 has never been invited to speak or present our side of the story to organizations who have endorsed the yes side, and in some cases are actively campaigning for a yes vote like The Alaska Center and Tanana Chiefs Conference,” Moriarty wrote.

“The Chamber was one of the first organizations to officially oppose Ballot Measure 1, following a long history of opposing ballot measures that would be harmful to the economic viability of the Interior,” Moriarty wrote. “Ultimately, it is the Chamber’s decision to educate their members on the positions of the organization. It’s not for me to say whether it is odd or not how they provided information to their members.”

When asked why measure supporters were excluded, Sharrah wrote in an email that the chamber opposes “new industry-specific targeted taxes.”

“When the Fairbanks Chamber takes a position, it is routine to then share that position with our members and the business community,” Sharrah wrote. “That’s who we are. We’re an advocacy organization that represents the business community and we’re unabashedly pro-business and pro-jobs.”

“The Fairbanks Chamber also has stated concerns about the initiative process that asks voters to make simple yes or no decisions about complex issues without first subjecting those issues to detailed expert analysis,” Sharrah wrote in a separate email. “Ballot Measure 1 is a targeted tax on our state’s largest investors and employers and, if passed, the measure will likely stifle future investments.”

One of the sponsors of Ballot Measure 1 is Robin Brena, a longtime oil and gas attorney in Anchorage who served as chairman of the Oil and Gas Subcommittee for the transition team of former Gov. Bill Walker.

More than 39,000 people signed a petition to get the tax question before Alaska voters.

“We’ve complied with the Constitution in every regard,” said Paskvan, a retired attorney who served in the Alaska Senate from 2009-2013.

Supporters of the ballot measure say it fixes a bad law, Senate Bill 21, under which “Alaskans are getting less for our oil than at any time in our history,” according to a statement in the state election pamphlet.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.