Stevens says Senate behind timetable on oil taxes

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- Senate President Gary Stevens said the Senate is behind where he hoped it would be in advancing an oil tax bill.

Stevens told reporters he had earlier hoped to have a bill leave the Senate Resources Committee Wednesday. But the committee is still holding hearings, and it isn't expected to take up amendments to help craft a bill until Friday.

Stevens said his goal now is to get a bill out of committee by March 8.

Once a bill leaves Resources, it would still have to go to the Senate Finance Committee before advancing to the floor for a vote.

Reaching consensus within the bipartisan majority could be tough. During a news conference Wednesday, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said part of the problem has been identifying the problem. He said testimony has led some members to think there are systemic issues, like holding producers to their obligation to produce from leases they have. He said some question the push to reduce taxes.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, responded that one person's view doesn't reflect that of the full caucus. Stevens, R-Kodiak, said there would be a caucus meeting Friday to discuss where the 16 members stand. He said he thinks the Senate can craft a bill of substance and "get it over to the House hopefully in time for them to deal with it."

Senators have expressed a willingness to look at progressivity. The tax structure features a 25 percent base tax rate and a progressive surcharge triggered when a company's production tax value hits $30 a barrel. The industry has said that the surcharge eats too deeply into profits at times of high oil prices and discourages new investment.

Earlier this session, Stevens said his goal was to get a bill to the House with at least 30 days left in session, or mid-March. On Wednesday, he said he hopes to the get the House a bill in a "reasonable time."

Gov. Sean Parnell's plan to cut oil production taxes stalled in the Senate last year after clearing the House. Senate leaders said they didn't have the information needed to make a sound policy call.

Parnell has sought to keep public pressure on the Senate to act on oil taxes, urging Alaskans Wednesday to call their legislators and urge them to pass "meaningful" tax reform -- the buzz term of this session.

The 90-day session is scheduled to end April 15.

Associated Press