Alaska's oil-based economy is teetering at the edge of a fiscal abyss. North Slope oil exploration, investment and production are tanking. Throughput in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which underwrites 90 percent of state spending, is drying up. Jobs are kaput.
Our goose, so wonderfully golden only a few years ago, is being fricasseed -- and the left hallucinates that everything is peachy, that ghost drilling rigs will appear like magic and, voilÃ , we'll be saved. They, of course, are nuts.
Our economy's main problem? Sarah Palin's revenge: Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax, cobbled together in 2007 in a hateful frenzy to punish the oil industry for sins real and imagined. Its fallout is incalculable. ACES stinks. Everybody but the left agrees. It is forcing the oil industry to go elsewhere, to places such as booming North Dakota, where the economy, fueled by industry investment, is white-hot and government is not the enemy.
In the next legislative session there will a smackdown to fix Palin's mess. Democrats believe that because government is fat and getting fatter from ACES -- even as regular folks struggle in our squishy economy -- the tax is a big-spender's godsend. They stalled, dragged their feet and did the rope-a-dope through the last legislative session to block tax reform. The next bout is few months off. This is no time for our top guys to be off their game. We need them focused, ready to rumble, not wrapped up in some internecine squabble over who does what.
Unfortunately, not everybody got the memo. Gov. Sean Parnell's recent fit of pique at Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell gives many of us shivers. What caused it? Who knows? Maybe Parnell went without breakfast. Or he lost his Bible, or got goo on his tie. Maybe Rick Perry did not call back. Or he just wanted to smack somebody around. I have those moments. Jelly doughnuts seem to help. News accounts have it that Parnell got it in his head that Treadwell, generally seen as a team player, was sticking his schnoz where it did not belong, sidestepping Parnell's commissioners to get things done by their underlings.
Instead of simply telling Treadwell, "Hey, chill, or I'll have my press secretary muss your hair," Parnell did what Parnell does: He fired off a nastygram that was certain to hit the papers and embarrass everyone involved. Too bad. Who advises this guy, anyway?
In virtually every state, lieutenant governors -- they have their own association, by the way, and their own junkets -- are expected to vanish election day, only to reappear smiling at this function or that, or for the next election. They make speeches, receive awards and resolutely read resolutions. Generally, you'll see solar eclipses more often than you see them. In the long intervals between appearances, they are expected to sit down, clam up and make the boss look good. No babes, no drugs, no scandals. No headlines. Treadwell fits the bill -- to a T.
In Alaska, lite-govs have my dream job. Big dough and little work. They oversee elections and notaries public and protect the state seal, whatever that may entail -- and it cannot be much. Oh, I suppose if it showed up in a flick titled "Alaska's Seal Does Ketchikan," there could be problems, but beyond that, what possibly could go wrong?
The problem in the way this imbroglio was handled -- and now it's all blah-blah-blah we love each other -- is that it gives the loony left more fodder and hope. Parnell will need Treadwell as he tries to convince lunkhead lawmakers that destroying the economy to fatten government is bad -- and he will need the public focused, too.
Thankfully, while Parnell & Co. have been distracted, businessmen who formed the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition are fighting, with former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton as their spokesman, to boost North Slope investment.
The organization is getting out the truth about ACES. Most recently it buried state Sen. Hollis French and Rep. Les Gara's latest fairy tale about the tax: that two new oil rigs in Portland headed for the North Slope meant ACES is working. Nothing, it turned out, could be further from the truth.
Parnell and Treadwell should be pounding home the real story about ACES all over the state, to anybody who will listen.
Alaska has far too much to lose for them to spend a second off-point.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.