A dedicated group of Alaskans recently exercised the referendum process created by our state constitution by gathering 50,000-plus signatures to repeal SB21, known as “The Oil and Gas Production Tax.”
SB21 proposes to lower the tax big oil companies pay the state, encouraging new oil development in Alaska, according to its sponsors.
The Legislature passed SB21 approximately 90 days ago, but a group of Alaskans felt this would take too much money from the state budget, and may eventually affect the Permanent Fund Dividend.
“This oil tax bill simply gives away billions of dollars to BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon, without any promise to reinvest that money in Alaska,” said Liz Diament in a June 5, Homer Tribune Point of View. “Our dividends are at risk, as is our fiscal solvency as a state.”
In a process that can take up to a year to complete, signatures were obtained in just three months by Alaska citizens, thanks to grassroot efforts all across the state. Earlier this week, the signatures were turned in to the Division of Elections in Anchorage, amid well-deserved fanfare and celebration. The division now has 60 days to either certify or deny the petition, based on the number of valid signatures.
This bipartisan effort “to preserve Alaska as the owner state” is to be applauded, whether you agree with them or not. They have taken the bill out of the hands of politicians and propose to put it before “We the People,” so that our voice can be heard at the primary election in 2014.
In Alaska, it’s true that our elected officials are more approachable than in many of the more populated states. They do visit Homer on occasion. We wave at them in the Fourth of July parade, listen to their various speeches on current Alaska issues from a podium, and — on rare occasion — they might flip a burger or two at a local picnic.
Often, they make some pretty difficult decisions without our input. That’s what we elect them to do. But sometimes, what they decide goes against their constituents’ wishes. This is when average citizens can step-up to exercise their power of referendum, take what is decided in the Legislature, and bring it to the vote of the people. It puts the issue back into our control. This is the definition of “owner state;” it is the democratic process in action.
This “Repeal the Tax Giveaway” group has done an incredible service to the Alaskan people, as they believe SB21 will take dollars and services away from the citizens, only to put billions of dollars into big oil companies’ pockets.
In Homer, we have seen this same exercise of our rights at the local level as well. We know all too well the ongoing issues surrounding the “Plastic Bag” ordinance that the Homer City Council passed. The ordinance came into effect in January, and was almost immediately unpopular; the subject of ridicule and derision.
A petition repealing the ordinance, initiated by Justin Arnold, was submitted to the Homer City Clerk’s office last month and contained more than 400 signatures gathered over a several-month long period. Arnold said he “surfed the web” on “how to change a city ordinance.” He told the Homer Tribune he is opposed to the bag ban because the government shouldn’t be involved in making personal choices.
Homer’s city clerk certified that the petition had at least the 230 signatures necessary, and the question will be on the Oct. 1 ballot.
Whether you support these causes or not, you must admire the work of ordinary citizens that exercise democracy by getting involved in making changes in questionable government decisions.
It’s time to put it before the greater whole.
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