Senator seeks answers on delayed oil company tax audits

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- A co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee laid into Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher on Monday over the years-long lag in audits of oil company tax returns.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said it's "very troublesome" that Butcher couldn't say how long it would take for audits to be caught up. The committee is working on an oil-tax bill and Hoffman says lawmakers would be negligent in their fiduciary responsibility if they didn't push the issue.

The Revenue Department is currently working on audits for calendar year 2007. The tax structure to which the Senate is considering making changes passed in 2007.

Butcher told the committee that the state has more information from the companies now than it had in the past and that the administration's view of what's broken with the current tax structure likely wouldn't change if audits were more up-to-date.

In an email, Butcher said the department's focus is on doing the audits "thoroughly and correctly as quickly as possible rather than the priority being to move as quickly as possible to the possible detriment of the work."

He said the toughest year to audit was 2006, when Alaska switched from a gross tax to a net tax.

He said he expects audit work to move more quickly as the department has transitioned into "net tax years." But he said he didn't have exact dates for when the work will be done because many of the returns were amended as regulations were adopted after the passage of the Petroleum Profits Tax in 2006 and Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share, or ACES, in 2007.

Associated Press