Oil Tax Debate Could Cause a Special Session
59 percent of poll respondents want to modify or repeal ACES
ANCHORAGE - As a new poll measures Alaskans' sentiments about oil taxes, Governor Parnell and the Senate Bipartisan Majority are digging in on their positions, with a special session looking more likely.
There's something for both sides of the oil tax debate in the new poll by Dittman Research of Anchorage.
Among the 1,000 respondents statewide, 59 percent want to modify or even repeal the production tax known as ACES.
But a slight plurality prefers the incremental approach being taken by the Senate bipartisan majority to the immediate, dramatic change being pursued by Governor Parnell.
As the poll came out, attention at the Capitol was focused on the time remaining in the legislative session.
"Earlier this session, Senator Stevens said he would assure that his majority had something out with 30 days to spare in the session,” Parnell said. “I'm very concerned that we are now 26 days out, and the senate finance committee still has the bill. They're taking public testimony on it today. But every indication I have is that bill will not be moving from Senate Finance for some time."
Senate President Gary Stevens played off Parnell’s comment in a letter that the senate is hatching an empty egg with its alternative legislation for modifying ACES.
"It’s not even Easter yet,” Stevens said. “We're working on that egg. And it's going to be a beautiful egg. It's going to be a real Easter egg. And we can expect it sometime in April, I think."
But Senate Finance Co-Chairman Bert Stedman says it will be at least another week before a committee substitute for the bill is introduced.
Parnell touted commitments from oil companies to invest billions more than currently planned if his original bill from last year is passed.
"There are no investment guarantees with the senate plan. They give away about $250 million a year with no guarantees, no money even on the table at all for this giveaway."
But senators say Parnell has no real commitments, either, at least at Prudhoe Bay.
"It's a field that's operated by three partners, and the partners have to agree on major investments,” said Senator Hollis French, D-Anchorage. “They can do day-to-day expenses, of course; the operator is free to make day-to-day expenses. But the operating agreement is pretty clear, once you get up above a certain threshold, all three partners have to agree, and the partners are Conoco, BP and Exxon."
Thus far, Exxon has made no statements about how much it might be willing to spend.
And there is no obvious path to compromise between the governor and the senate.
A letter to the legislature's presiding officers from the CEO of Denver-based Armstrong Oil and Gas, a partner of the Spanish firm Repsol, pledged $9 billion in North Slope investment if legislation similar to the governor's is passed.
William Armstrong claims that state revenue would be increased by $18 billion with that investment.
For full poll results click here.