Legislative logjam ‘moving sideways’: House takes up new proposal on oil tax credits
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday took up a new version of Gov. Bill Walker’s bill to scale back oil tax credits — an issue that has created what some lawmakers refer to as a “logjam” in the Legislature.
Until spending is reeled in on credits, leaders in both bodies say they can’t move forward on other parts of a fiscal plan to address the state’s more than $4-billion fiscal gap, including the governor’s plan to use Permanent Fund earnings to help balance the budget.
Whether the latest oil tax draft bill will be the measure that clears the clog seems unlikely.
“I don’t think that it’s unjammed. It’s maybe moving sideways, but there is motion,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, chair of the Rules Committee. “There’s something for people to actually be talking about now as opposed to concepts and ideas, and, ‘I think this,’ and ‘I think that.'”
The new version of the bill resembles a plan Johnson put out to legislators last month to eliminate all but one cash credit to companies by 2020. That date has now become 2019, and the proposal includes a provision that would make some information available publicly about what companies are receiving in credits.
The proposal needs 21 votes to pass the House. Johnson said he’s not sure it has that yet, but he thinks the timing is right to move forward anyway.
“Until it’s finalized, I’m not counting votes. At this point in time, it’s time for people to make a decision, yes or no, have their input and move forward,” Johnson said, adding that he thinks the bill will likely look different by the time it gets to the floor for a vote.
“At this point, I don’t think it has 21 votes at all,” said Rep. Chris Tuck, House minority leader, who said he’d call the new version of the bill “movement, not necessarily progress.”
Tuck said things are moving too quickly. He said he hadn’t seen the new version until early Tuesday morning. Amendments from committee members are due by 2 p.m. Wednesday, two hours before public testimony will be taken up.
“I think it’s really important to hear from the public, it’s part of the process, and, to just put the public at the very end when everything else is pre-determined, I think is unfair to Alaskans,” Tuck added.
The state is scheduled to pay out $775 million in oil tax credits next year, an amount equivalent to paying each qualified Alaskan a dividend of slightly more than $1,000. The governor’s administration, as well as legislators on both sides of the aisle, have called that number unsustainable.
“Legislators want to make sure that we take care of this first because we just simply can’t ask Alaskans to give up their Permanent Fund, a portion of their Permanent Fund to go directly to the oil industry,” Tuck said.
Public testimony will be taken on the oil tax legislation, House Bill 247, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.
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