By Sen. Gary Stevens
Ballot measure 1 is a divisive and complex issue. Much confusion has been generated and I’ve been asked by many friends, “How am I supposed to vote?” It’s really not for me to tell you how to vote, but I’m glad to tell you how I’m going to vote.
I’m going to vote YES, and I hope you will consider doing the same. Many of my colleagues and people I greatly respect don’t agree. I think this vote is going to be a squeaker either way. That’s why it is so important you exercise your civic right to vote, however you decide.
A YES vote repeals the Governor’s bill, SB 21, because it gives away too much of your money to “Big Oil.” Former senator Clem Tillion likes to remind Alaskans that our natural resources are our patrimony. He is right. The Alaska Constitution guarantees our natural resources will be used for the maximum benefit of its people. That’s you. When Alaska became a state, one of the first claims made was for Prudhoe Bay. Alaskans were certainly no dummies. We knew where the oil was and how valuable it is, so Prudhoe Bay and its oil resources became ours.
We are foolish to give away — for so little — the resources we own. There is an old American saying, “Don’t give away the farm.” That’s what I think you will be doing if you vote no. I have nothing against Big Oil. We need them, but we can never really trust them to look out for our best interests. They are, and should be, looking out for their stockholders and their bottom line. But, what’s best for Big Oil may not be what’s best for Alaska.
We are being told the choice is black and white, between continuing the old oil tax system called ACES —which has some faults — or the new tax system under SB 21 that is way too generous to Big Oil. As in most matters, the best course is somewhere between those extremes. If the public votes YES — as I hope they will — the issue of a fair tax will go back to the legislature to find a compromise between the two. Over the last few years, the legislature has considered being more generous to Big Oil on the issue of progressivity when oil prices are high, and trying to find ways to benefit all oil companies when they put newly discovered oil in the pipeline.
Remember, Prudhoe Bay is an aging oil field. We expected production to continue to decline as it has in the past. It’s one of the greatest oil fields ever in this country, but we’ve been pumping oil from it for decades. No one should be surprised that other states are now out-producing us. As Senator Bert Stedman has pointed out, the boom in North Dakota and Texas is not tax-driven, but a result of new fracking technology on privately owned land; not State land like here.
In fact, Alaskans would be better off under North Dakota’s tax and royalty structure than under the governor’s SB 21 — to the tune of some $1.5 billion, according to Stedman. It’s unfortunate we are no longer No. 1, but that shouldn’t cause us to reduce taxes in such an extreme way. We are only shooting ourselves in our collective feet.
I’ve not always agreed with former Governor Sarah Palin, but she was right to introduce ACES. For years, Alaskans had not benefited as much as we should have, as our oil was shipped through TAPS.
Unfortunately, in many cases, we were virtually giving our oil away. Palin recognized Alaskans were being taken advantage of, and finally — through ACES — brought Alaskans a fairer share of our resource.
If we need to make minor changes, let’s do it. But if we are foolish enough to vote no, we are pretty much giving our oil away once again. It will not be replenished like our renewable resources. Once our oil is gone, it is gone forever. Alaskans will likely not benefit from other oil finds as we have with Prudhoe Bay. The Federal Government oversees and taxes ANWAR and the Outer Continental Shelf, not Alaskans. Maybe less oil will flow though TAPS, but it is even more valuable to Alaskans than ever. And at the rate we are producing oil, it should last from 50 to 100 years.
Let’s use our resources wisely so it benefits all Alaskans; now, and well into the future as our Constitution decrees.
Should Alaskans decide to keep the governor’s tax giveaway in place, I truly fear for the future. How are we going to pay for services like public education, police protection, senior citizens services, health and social services? The choices are limited. First, we will power though our limited savings; then, we will be faced with the Sophie’s Choice of using our Permanent Fund or reinstating an income tax.
As it has always been, it’s up to you — the Alaska voter — to see through the millions of dollars of TV ads that always end with the quickly read statement, “paid for by Exxon, BP and Conoco Phillips.” The other side can’t afford those ads. How can Big Oil afford them? Could it be that they will reap enormous profits should you allow it?
If you believe, as I do, that Alaskans are not receiving a fair price for their oil, I encourage you to go to the polls on Aug. 19, vote YES and repeal SB 21.
Sen. Gary Stevens represents District R in the Alaska State Senate. He served two terms as Senate President and was the 2013 National Chairman of the Council of State Governments.
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