Senate Confirms Historic Oil Tax Vote
Bill to cut oil taxes now heads to the House
ANCHOARGE - The oil tax cut was approved again Thursday, with no votes to spare for a second time.
The Senate passed the oil tax cut bill—an issue that members on both sides of the aisle agree could determine the entire future of Alaska—on reconsideration with a vote of 11 to 9.
The bill, which would cut oil taxes by billions of dollars, came to a vote Wednesday night. Senator Donny Olson, D-Golovin, gave a chilling recollection from 2006 of the Veco scandal and the so-called “Corrupt Bastards Club.”
"The only caution that I have is the last time I got involved with oil taxes I had a full-on FBI investigation that cost me tens of thousands of dollars to go ahead and unfetter myself with and the threat of going to jail. So I urge caution tonight as you push one of those buttons."
No allegations of corruption have been made in the current oil tax debate, but dissenting Democratic senators continued with their harsh assessment when the bill came up for reconsideration Thursday.
“This bill pushes about $2,000 a minute across to the oil industry every minute of the day for the next six years," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. “Every Alaskan will be giving up $7,491 to the oil industry if we pass this bill, Mr. President."
Republicans objected to that kind of rhetoric.
"Folks, we're not moving money anywhere,” Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said Wednesday night, during a Senate majority press availability after the first vote. “We haven't realized those gains. We don't even know if we'll get them. They’re based on a projection on what the price per barrel of oil is."
Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell emphasized to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce that the whole point of cutting oil taxes is to increase production. "The bill clearly focuses on new production. The gross revenue exclusion in there, which says if you find new oil you will get to exclude a portion of that value from this tax rate, that's effectively what it is, and it's only for new oil."
The governor expects changes when the bill reaches the House of Representatives. "But use those knobs and levers that are there,” he advised. “Don’t try to make it more complicated by putting in new levers, new knobs, new dials."
Even though the Republican-led House has passed a big oil tax cut before, Senate Democrats are still holding out hope that it's not over. "We believe that the Alaskan public will speak out and maybe there's a chance to influence the House of Representatives,” said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.
The bill increases the base tax rate from 25 percent of oil company profits to 35 percent, but completely eliminates the progressive element that jacks the state's take up at high per-barrel prices. Now the question is whether that would successfully attract the necessary industry investment that would arrest the decline in production.
Kara Moriarty, the executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said progressivity has been the big barrier to investment. Moriarty said the base rate increase and the loss of some credits are still a concern to the industry.