FAIRBANKS — According to Public Policy Polling, 16 percent of primary voters don’t yet know how they’ll vote on Measure 1, the primary ballot measure that will either keep or throw out Alaska’s new oil tax system.
The sides fighting over that 16 percent (according to the same poll, they’re currently tied at 42 percent) have painted a grim picture of what the other side’s future looks like. There are dire warnings of state income taxes, raided state savings and a deserted North Slope.
These opposing and often-contradictory pictures likely aren’t giving that 16 percent of voters much clarity about what a “Yes” or “No” vote will mean.
The News-Miner has explored a variety of issues relating to Measure 1 during the past week — including oil production, politics, jobs and state revenue — and today, in the final story, we’re exploring the question of “What if the repeal passes?”
Political reality of the repeal
Yes, if Measure 1 passes, it will reinstate the Sarah Palin-
championed Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share regime, but even the most ardent supporters of that future agree that ACES will need tweaking.
There’s been talk of capping taxes at the high oil prices the oil companies say it needs to invest, the need to open up the North Slope to independents and explore incentives for producing new forms of oil, but before any of that can happen there will be a general election.
Many of the lawmakers who voted to pass Senate Bill 21 in 2013 will be up on this fall’s ballot, up against a slate of mostly green challengers and a handful of
A successful repeal might give those challengers a boost heading into the election, but that could also be wishful thinking.
Amanda Coyne, a political blogger and co-author of “Crude Awakening” an account of the VECO scandal where several state lawmakers were arrested for taking bribes, said she believes the reality for the repeal is that for most districts, particularly the ones that are home to vulnerable lawmakers, won’t win or lose by a landslide.
That means it won’t be the sort of issue that will hand Democrats and moderate Republicans a slate of new seats.
“This is a wedge issue one way or another,” she said. “The Democrats can jump up or down, but the electorate is going to say now what are you going to do?”
She said a successful repeal might have the biggest boon for the race for the governor’s office, where both Democrat Byron Mallot and independent Bill Walker have made it a key point, but that’s also a tricky three-way race that by all polling puts Gov. Sean Parnell well ahead of his two front-runner opponents.
Either way, once the Legislature, likely to be filled with mostly familiar faces, gavels in next January, Coyne said she believes they’ll likely be skittish about oil taxes and there won’t be the same kind of energy that having a number of lawmakers put in handcuffs created.
“I think in the next Legislature people are not going to want to touch it for a while,” she said.
It’s a similar concern that was voiced by the Fairbanks-area chair of the industry-backed Vote No on One group, Leslie Hajdukovich. At a forum in July, Hajdukovich said she was concerned that repealing Senate Bill 21 would restart the discussion.
“If it reverts back to ACES and to try to get the political motivation and momentum it could take two, two and a half years,” she said. “That’s another two and a half years of hard work in the Legislature.”
A sturdier oil tax system
But the exact structure of whatever the Legislature comes up with in the wake of a potential repeal isn’t quite as important as finding a system that can avert this sort of battle altogether, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and supporter of the repeal effort.
Senate Bill 21, like ACES, is one more in a long and storied history of the Alaska Legislature fiddling with its oil tax system.
A history that includes industry bribes, mass arrests of legislators, an anti-Big Oil uprising that helped vault Sarah Palin to the governor’s office and bipartisan leadership in to the Alaska Senate, a contentious redistricting process that in the next election yielded the exact number of votes needed to pass a new oil tax system and a nearly immediate repeal effort spear-headed by one of Alaska’s last living constitutional delegates.
To Stedman, who enjoyed power and the co-chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee under the bipartisan coalition, none of that is likely to end as long as Alaska’s oil tax system can come under the sort of pressure that enables a referendum.
“My guess is that in four years, if the repeal fails and Parnell is re-elected, that the next governor will have an oil tax bill in front of the Legislature,” he said. “We don’t want a fiscal structure that changes every time we have a new governor.”
What the state needs to do, he said, is formulate an oil tax structure and fiscal policy that has stability in mind. That’s not necessarily booming oil production — he points out that lofty claims of major increases in production have been dropped — or jobs — which he says the state shouldn’t be trading billions of tax dollars for anyways — he said, but something that can provide steady, dependable income for years to come.
“We need an oil tax that is more durable and has broader buy-in from the citizens of the state,” he said. “Let’s not forget who owns the oil.”
To that end, Stedman said he believes the best path forward is to repeal Senate Bill 21, send the Legislature back to work with the voters’ reprimand and take the time to get it right.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: