Fairbanks Senator Could Be Deciding Vote On Oil Tax Bill
JUNEAU — By most counts, Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop could be the deciding vote on oil taxes, and the lawmaker, who campaigned on bringing a “common-sense approach” to staunching Alaska’s lagging oil production, hasn’t been convinced to be the 11th vote in a deeply split Senate.
On Friday, the day after the freshman lawmaker sparred with oil industry representatives about what was, at best, a lukewarm response to a bill that could cost the state between $4.9 billion to $6.3 billion during the next six years, Bishop said he isn’t happy.
“Last night, I wasn’t happy with the oil industry,” he said during some downtime in a day packed with meetings.
The night before, Bishop attempted to extricate assurances that the proposed tax cuts would spur development and increase production. He didn’t get it.
Instead, industry representatives said the latest version is an improvement over the current tax structure, avoiding any promises of new investment. At times, the representatives told him to ask legislative consultants, who Bishop has heard from in two committees for most of the session.
“I’m looking for some kind of commitment, you know, a good-faith effort on the industry’s part more than I heard last night,” Bishop said on Friday. “I was disappointed to hear their comments. Now, I understand they’re a big oil company; I get that. But when you’re looking at that kind of money moving across the table, I think they can be a little more forthright in telling the people of Alaska what their intentions are.”
The Senate Finance Committee, after just a few hours hearing from its consultants and the big oil producers, passed the bill out of committee.
The only “do pass” recommendations came from co-chairmen Sens. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. Most others, including Bishop, voted amend.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel and a member of the Interior delegation, was the only “do not pass” recommendation, though he said he accidentally marked “do pass.”
Hoffman was skeptical of the industry and warned his fellow committee members of the bill’s fiscal impact.
“If we pass this, I can guarantee you that billions of dollars will move across the table,” he said.
When asked how he would vote on the bill in its current form, Bishop was a little cagey, but said the bill still could change before it goes to final passage.
“I signed the bill amend,” he said. “That should tell you.”
Despite Bishop and others’ unanswered questions, the oil tax bill is moving quickly.
The oil tax bill went through two rewrites during the week and it appears Senate leadership is eager to hand the bill to the House, having already run past the 30 days it had promised to give the chamber.
Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he supports the bill even though he feels total government take is a few percentage points too low for his taste. He wants to give the House proper time to do its work.