Point Counterpoint: French argues for targeted oil tax cuts, no Pebble mine

By SEN. HOLLIS FRENCHOctober 20, 2012 

Let's all agree that Alaska is a resource development state with unmatched potential. The real issue in this election is how Alaskans will handle the use of our resources and who will benefit.

The Bipartisan Coalition's practice of freewheeling debate and across-the-aisle consensus-building is in jeopardy as special interest groups and some politicians openly say they are out to kill bipartisan cooperation.

That's not the Alaska I want. Instead of stifling debate we should encourage it: come to the table, state your position, listen to mine and then let's figure out the best solution for all of us.

Here's where I stand.

OIL TAXES

I support the oil industry. It's what brought me to Alaska three decades ago and how I made my living, working for 13 years from Cook Inlet to Kuparuk.

I believe Alaska's current oil tax is working. It puts more of our resource wealth into the hands of Alaskans and helps plow roads, hire good teachers and keep our communities safe.

The alternative is a plan by the governor to hand the industry $2 billion a year in tax breaks -- with no promise of increased production or investment in Alaska.

I think that's the wrong approach, and so do many of my colleagues - Republicans and Democrats alike.

Legislators from both parties asked tough questions and waited for answers. When we didn't get them we passed bill that significantly lowered taxes on new oil developments. I believe the approach we took will be the template for next year's session. We need targeted tax cuts that lead to more production, more jobs, more wells being drilled in Alaska.

I put myself through law school and fed my family with my North Slope earnings. I appreciate how valuable those jobs are. I want the same opportunities for the next generation.

PEBBLE

I support mining in Alaska, but not Pebble.

The industry is growing rapidly, digging $3.8 billion worth of minerals last year. Mines like Red Dog, Greens Creek, Kensington, Pogo, Fort Knox and others generated 13,000 direct and indirect jobs and about $600 million in payroll. New mines are on the way, from Ketchikan to the Kuskokwim. That's good news.

But the Pebble Mine would sit above the world's best fishing grounds. Bristol Bay generates its own incredible numbers: more than 22 million salmon were caught there this season, a down year. Those fish typically generate about $500 million for the economy and 14,000 jobs.

Bristol Bay and its watersheds also provide subsistence and cultural lifeblood to the Alaska Native families who have lived there for countless generations.

While Pebble would mean new jobs in one industry, it could jeopardize existing jobs in another. That's a very bad trade.

Until I see a project plan convincing me beyond doubt that Bristol Bay is protected forever, I cannot support the Pebble Mine.

CANDIDATE'S CHOICE

Whether on oil taxes, mining, fishing or other issues, my approach always will be rigorous debate based on the best available evidence. What I have learned over the last six years in the Bipartisan Coalition is that having both parties at the table makes for better, more balanced solutions.

My opponent wants to break up the bipartisan Senate coalition. I have news for him: Republicans and Democrats working together is not what's wrong with Alaska. Working together is what the public expects from its public servants.

The last time we had one party rule in Juneau it ended in the Veco vote-buying scandal. Let's don't go back to the bad old days. Let's move ahead through cooperation and principled compromise.

 

State Sen. Hollis French, a former prosecutor and oil field worker, is the Democratic candidate for Senate District J, West Anchorage.

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