Paul Jenkins: Left needs oil-tax repeal referendum to rally the ignorant

CommentMay 18, 2013 

Watching the Left hustle to flimflam the rubes would be entertaining if it were not so darned serious. Its latest baloney is "Vote Yes! -- Repeal the Giveaway." Supposedly, the effort is aimed at dumping the legislative rewrite of Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax. A hamburger in a roomful of wolves has better odds. More likely, something else is afoot.

What cranked up this round of dopery is the Legislature's reduction in oil taxes to spur North Slope investment and production. As it was, ACES made Alaska as appealing as a sore toe to the oil industry, contributing to a marginal tax rate of more than 90 percent at higher oil prices. What company in its right mind would invest in producing new oil here?

Those pushing to repeal the tax cut -- including a few Democrat legislators who should know better -- want you to believe the rollback amounts to a multibillion-dollar giveaway to the North Slope oil industry with nothing promised in return.

Swaddling themselves in progressive populism, rollback proponents are trying to round up more than 30,000 signatures by mid-July to put on the Aug. 26 ballot next year a referendum putting the question to a vote.

Their biggest obstacle? Alaskans are not dumb Or, most are not. (Some still think the Owner State is swell.) Alaskans know Alaska is an oil state. They understand that North Slope oil pays for 90 percent of state spending. They know production and investment for new oil is down -- and they know ACES is to blame. They know who will be paying the bills when oil revenue finally dries up and bureaucrats blow through Alaska's $16 billion in accessible savings. Alaskans know oil production revenue carries more than half the state's economy and a third of its jobs. Another 20 percent of the jobs are what UAA's Institute of Social and Economic Research refers to as "spinoff" jobs.

They also know the repeal effort is political theater, that lawmakers can reverse the tax cuts in a flash if the industry poops out on investment and production.

What referendum spinmeisters pretend to want is ACES, with its unbracketed, progressive tax rate intact. That means more taxes, less investment, less oil and shrinking state revenues -- not exactly a blueprint for success or a winning strategy, even for the Left. So, if you think about it, that cannot possibly be what they really want. They are asking Alaskans to go along with going broke. Why would we buy into that malarkey?

It is easy to understand why some unions and oil industry haters want the status to remain quo: state money to spend right now. What rankles is that lawmakers who were part of the Legislature's representative, deliberative process to craft ACES reform and who had ample opportunities to air their views and opinions chose to end-run that body because they failed to get their way. Instead of respecting the process, they opted for petulance. At least one of the lawmakers gathering signatures -- Anchorage Democrat Sen. Hollis French -- helped stall reform for years as part of a recalcitrant, Democrat-driven coalition dedicated to taxing and spending.

So even French et al. must understand the repeal effort is destined to fail, that most people simply are unwilling to cut off their noses to spite their faces. So why waste the time? There is a very good reason. Next year is huge for the Left.

There may be initiatives of interest on the ballot for these folks. Recreational dope, for instance, and a scam to roadblock the Pebble project. There could be one to bump up the minimum wage. But the big enchilada is Sen. Mark Begich's re-election bid. Statewide, Democrats routinely draw somewhere in the 40 percent range at the polls. He will need more.

Toss in Republican Gov. Sean Parnell's re-election bid and you can almost see the Left frothing.

If tricking the yokels into believing they can save Alaska by rolling back evil tax cuts and they show up at the polls in an anti-business, anti-oil, anti-Republican, anti-Parnell mood, proponents likely will see it as time and money -- from where, I wonder? -- well spent.

Alaska, after all, is chock-full of people with axes to grind. Proponents of repeal will be looking for anybody who can breathe and vote -- and breathing, I suspect, is optional.

Thankfully, most Alaskans are not dumb.


Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

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