There recently appeared in the Daily News-Miner an opinion piece by the governor in which he “shared his vision for the Last Frontier.” He promises more of his “watershed moment” (so far a disaster, and he’s all wet) for Alaska that was supposed to bear fruit last year. I have absolutely no confidence in this governor. His promises and plans are always linked to huge cuts that are actually devastating punishments of our major needs: education, infrastructure, the ferry system, the university. His total unwillingness to find a way to budget for any basic needs for our state and its people seems to be his only policy.
But, hark, the active and thoughtful public has now offered a second call to help ourselves.
It is a righteous and correct effort to overcome the disastrous Senate Bill 21 oil tax law. This is a new attempt through an initiative: the Alaska’s Fair Share Initiative petition, to return the oil tax rate to an appropriate and deserved level. This effort could help solve many budgetary problems, most importantly the budget gap that keeps continuing because the governor and the Legislature refuse to look to new revenues to solve our budget shortfalls.
More than this, please think about how this all meshes with the recent departure of BP Alaska and its sale of assets to Hilcorp’s subsidiary. To anyone paying close attention, this huge sale is a very clear signal that Alaska is in the last throes of oil production and that the days of increase are simply over — done, never to return. This is sounding fairly ominous, not? But I ask you to think about it clearly and honestly. Why would one of the largest holders of assets on the North Slope simply pack it in now? They know the reality. They’re gone.
And something else you should check out. Some of you may recall that year after year false promises of increased oil production on the North Slope were supposed to give us more income as a result of the passage of SB 21, which we tried by vote to repeal in 2013 but failed.
Oil revenue never increased as promised. It was all propaganda, and we, and our legislators, were duped as usual. Alaska oil production has followed the path that was predicted by the state Department of Natural Resources every year since 2010 and has not really veered from it since. The promises that SB 21 would improve the oil tax regime and oil tax recovery for the state budget were never real and certainly never proved up. We actually ended up paying them to take our oil.
Now that the warning shot has been fired by BP’s departure, indicating the ultimate decline of oil production on the North Slope by its sale to a company whose success is tied to wringing out the last vestiges of oil from the reservoirs up north, it should be clear what that means. And if you think the oil companies will leave if you appropriately tax them now, why is it that one already left and another bought in?
We need to wake up, Alaska. If we don’t tax oil now by voting overwhelmingly for the Alaska’s Fair Share initiative, another chance will pass, and be gone, and we’ll be sad fools forever with budget failures and a poorer, sadder state. We will have sold our legacy for much less than it was worth. We must raise revenue with the resources we’ve got now, solve today’s problem, and move to make a transition to a future we can afford and in which we haven’t wrecked what we already have by underfunding it and destroying the state government.
Since our governor doesn’t seem to know any of this, we must recall him, and we also must pass the Alaska’s Fair Share initiative, to get the revenue to fund our state. Our legislators won’t do it. We must do it ourselves. This is what our choices should be. We must do both these things, and stop the ruination.
Rich Seifert is a professor emeritus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He lives in Fairbanks.