Effort to repeal new oil tax law clears its first hurdle

ldemer@adn.comApril 26, 2013 

Backers of a voter referendum to wipe out the newly passed oil tax cut bill can move ahead with their effort. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on Thursday certified their application, and the group can start a signature drive in their quest to put the measure targeted at Senate Bill 21 on the August 2014 ballot.

The state Division of Elections determined that 352 of the 370 signatures on the application belonged to registered voters, Treadwell wrote in a letter to one of the backers, Vic Fischer, one of the framers of the Alaska Constitution. That's well above the 100 signatures needed for state certification. The Department of Law found no legal issues that would justify blocking the effort, Treadwell wrote.

The elections office will print booklets for the referendum backers to use as they try to gather the more than 30,000 signatures -- 10 percent of the number of voters in the last general election -- required for the measure to make it to the ballot. They have until July 13 to file their packet with signatures, which must be from 30 of the 40 House districts, Treadwell wrote.

"Hundreds of Alaskans have signed up to volunteer, and we look forward to receiving petition booklets so that we may move forward with collecting the signatures necessary to put repeal of SB 21 on the ballot," Pat Lavin, one of the organizers of Vote Yes -- Repeal the Giveway, said in an emailed statement.

A 13-page attorney general opinion on the measure also was released on Thursday.

SB 21 has not yet been signed by Gov. Sean Parnell, though that's not in doubt since he pushed through the big cut in oil taxes as a way to encourage new oil company investment in Alaska and stem a decline in production. But critics say the state is giving away billions to multinational oil companies with no promise of new production. The state estimates the loss compared to the current tax could be close to $4 billion the first five years, without new oil production.

So while the referendum backers technically are trying to repeal a measure that has not yet become law, that's appropriate considering the quick timeline set in the constitution for a referendum, Libby Bakalar, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.

Referendums can't be used to repeal laws that dedicate revenue, laws for appropriations, local or special legislation, or "laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety," under the constitution.

The oil tax measure doesn't fall under any of those restrictions, including the one related to appropriations even though oil companies that aren't yet producing oil can recover some of their operating losses during development through tax credits paid by the state, Bakalar wrote. Those payments "are contingent on additional legislative action," she wrote.

The attorney general's office also proposed ballot language summarizing the complex 30-page tax measure, which includes a number of tax credits and goes far beyond setting a tax rate. The summary takes 996 words, but could have been double that because of the measure's length, Bakalar wrote. Voters then will be asked whether to reject the law.


Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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