Lawmakers diddle, delay reforming our oil taxes

Rex Rock Sr.

It's important to keep a focus on another version of March Madness now playing out in Juneau over oil-tax reform -- and the shot clock is winding down.

It's not an overstatement to say the oil and gas industry is the lifeblood of Alaska's economy, equating to more than 90 cents out of every dollar heading into the state's general fund. This revenue stream is used to fix our roads, fund our educational system and, yes, even maintain the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program. More directly, the industry helps to support a wide variety of private businesses -- everything from local retail outlets to restaurants. It also allows corporations to assist the less fortunate by donating to nonprofit organizations.

You don't have to work in or even around the industry to be affected by it. All you have to do is live here.

Since 2005, for example, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation has contributed more than $17 million to charities across the state like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), The Nature Conservancy and Special Olympics. During that same time, we have also contributed more than $550 million in revenue sharing to the 12 land-based regional Alaska Native corporations. Without the partnerships ASRC has created with the oil and gas industry, these significant contributions to Alaska would not have been possible.

Across the Arctic Slope region, a robust and healthy oil and gas industry allows companies like ASRC to provide employment and contracting opportunities for a growing number of shareholders and to our extended family of companies. These jobs and career skills have made a difference, empowering our residents with the means of providing for their families and of building capacity within their communities. However, this quality of life is in jeopardy from some lawmakers who continue to play by their own rules, seemingly shutting out input from concerned Alaskans and industry partners who have demonstrated the need for oil-tax reform.

As Alaska Native people, we have an acute understanding of sustainability. We have made this land our home for thousands of years but the atmosphere in Juneau is not creating a responsible path for subsequent generations. Without oil-tax reform, our state, businesses and communities will suffer. We need more oil in the trans-Alaska pipeline to protect our future.

As a former basketball coach, I also understand the value of teamwork. The answer to the decline of North Slope oil production is for the Legislature to work together to find meaningful tax reform, to create a business-friendly atmosphere that will spur and encourage investment. Right now, Alaska's burdensome tax climate is pushing away oil producers that are otherwise ready to unlock the remaining potential of the North Slope's legacy fields. That potential means the billions of barrels of oil that still lie untapped in areas like Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk and Alpine. The oil is there but the state needs to level the playing field for the oil producers to reach it.

Production on the Slope continues to decline as some in the Legislature focus on distractions and wait on crafting meaningful oil-tax reform. Alaska can be business-friendly and competitive again but lawmakers have to stop passing the ball and take their shot.

Rex A. Rock Sr. is president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which is owned by and represents the business interests of about 11,000 Iñupiat shareholders. He is also a whaling captain and led the Tikigaq High School boys' basketball team to four state championships.