Compass: Vince Beltrami says Alaska labor is willing to cut oil taxes - provided Alaska gets something in return

By VINCE BELTRAMIOctober 20, 2012 

In last week's ADN, Paul Jenkins said this: "A union front, the Putting Alaskans First Committee, is dedicated to saving the state Senate Bipartisan Working Group and Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax (ACES) -- even at the expense of Alaska's future."

Jenkins got the first part right but he whiffed on the back end.

Yes we support a bipartisan working group in the Senate. Heck, we'd support one in the House too. All Alaskans should support a bipartisan Legislature, period. It's healthy for balance in government.

But we are certainly not dedicated to saving ACES in its entirety. As it is now, we believe it would be fair to look at parts of the law, like the progressivity feature for instance.

But, see, that's the difference between Paul Jenkins and his ilk, and me and the workers I represent. We place an inherent dedication in the notion of fair play. That is what collective bargaining is all about. In the spirit of fairness we sit down with employers to assure that those who create success for their employers are treated fairly in the process.

So imagine for a moment that all of the people of Alaska are the members of Alaska Local Union No. 1 and the Big Three Corp. is the employer. Right now, Alaska Union Local No. 1 has $20 billion in our collective savings account. That money is in the pockets of each Alaska resident.

And we are going to spend it on infrastructure. Roads, schools, public safety. And we're going to invest it in our kids' education.

Along comes the Big Three Corp. They're unhappy because while they knew high commodity prices would increase their profits greatly, they didn't like that it was at a rate that is not quite as good as the state's during these high price conditions. They cry foul, even though they report bigger profits in Alaska than anywhere else.

Big Three Corp. comes to the table with their lead counsel. Let's say his name is Pawn Sharnell. Sharnell says: "Here's the deal. You're going to take $20 billion from your pocket and give it to Big Three. Take it or leave it."

Alaska Local No. 1's citizen negotiating team says: "OK, sounds like a good deal for Big Three but what do we get out of it?"

Sharnell says: "We guarantee nothing for you in return. Now, if Big Three feels like reinvesting in Alaska and hiring Alaskans, that's up to them, but they have huge worldwide portfolios, ya know."

Alaska Local No. 1: "So, let me get this straight, Pawn. We give Big Three about 2 billion bucks a year; Alaska goes from $20 billion in the bank to a $615 million deficit, with no guarantee the $2 billion a year will be replaced any time soon because there's no guarantee Big Three will keep the money in Alaska or put any more oil in the pipe at all?"

Sharnell: "That is correct."

So, according to Mr. Jenkins, it's fair to get a one-sided deal that jeopardizes the state's fiscal future more certainly and quickly than if ACES is left alone, unless you believe in pixie dust and unicorns and somehow believe Big Three Corp. will spend the $2 billion a year and then some to increase the flow of oil before the treasury runs dry.

And his scary mantra of throughput decline just doesn't resonate either when companies like Great Bear and Armstrong and Shell are pouring tons of dough into North Slope exploration and early news is generating tons of excitement. Employment is way up on the Slope. Bed space is at a premium. So enough with the "sky-is-falling" scare tactics.

Meanwhile, the folks in the Senate bipartisan coalition are about to come under attack on the airwaves by the Republican State Legislative Committee out of Washington, D.C., funded by all the friends of the Big Three Corp.

Don't fall for their attacks to distract. Support the incumbent candidates of a Senate bipartisan coalition with backbone who understand that it is our oil.

Vince Beltrami is president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, an organization of unions.

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