Alaska Democrats promote candidates opposing oil tax cuts

Richard Mauer

The state Democratic Party has jumped into the fight over oil taxes, launching a website to promote its candidates who are "standing up for Alaska."

The website and campaign was announced in a news conference Thursday by Democratic Party director Kay Brown and one of the party's senior statesmen, former Senate President Chancy Croft, who last served in the Alaska Legislature in 1978.

"Will we elect legislators who show some backbone and stand up for Alaska's future? Will we elect legislators who get a fair return for our oil and not give away our oil wealth with nothing in return?" asked Brown.

She answered the questions by promoting the "hero" Democrats in the House and especially the Senate who refused to support oil production tax reductions in the Legislature last year.

Oil taxes evolved into the biggest issue in the 27th Legislature, which skidded to a halt in special session in April without resolving the matter.

Gov. Sean Parnell and nearly the entire Republican majority in the House supported a large reduction in oil taxes -- $2 billion a year, by most counts -- in the hopes of encouraging more oil company investment in Alaska. That investment could slow or reverse the decline in production from the big North Slope oil fields, eventually boosting state tax revenue, they assert.

That effort died with the bipartisan coalition that ran the Senate. Though most senators said the current oil tax regime needed modifications to encourage more drilling, they argued that the program of the House and governor would give away revenue without requiring more production.

With all but one Senate seat up for election in this year of redistricting, oil taxes and the bipartisan coalition that stalled the governor's plan are among the top issues in November's election. Not all the Senate's 19 seats on the November ballot are contested, but the ones that are open or that have a vulnerable incumbent are becoming big battlegrounds.

"This is not a normal election," Croft said. "There's never been anything in the history of Alaska, including canned salmon or timber or anything else, in which the amount that's at stake for one industry is as huge as what's at stake in this election -- $2 billion a year for 10 years. The oil companies could spend $2 million (on the election) and they would be spending one one-thousandth of what they might make if the Legislature is changed so that the governor's bill could become law."

Croft and Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who joined the news conference by phone, said that taking $2 billion a year from the state treasury would eventually bankrupt the state or force the Legislature to start appropriating money from Permanent Fund profits. They rejected the possibility that spending could be slashed to match the revenue decline in revenue brought by reduced taxes, even as many Republican candidates say it should be.

"As a member of the Legislature for 10 years, I've watched Republican leadership and a Republican-led House increase the budget every single year while they talked every campaign year about reducing the budget," Gara said. "The governor's plan, while it talks in terms of economic development, is going to be an economic catastrophe for the state because we will not only lose oil jobs when companies start sending their money Outside, we'll lose construction jobs, we'll lose teachers, we'll lose geologists, we'll lose Fish and Game employees."

The Democratic Party website opens with a cartoonish rendition of Gov. Parnell as "Captain Zero" -- the nickname Rep. Don Young coined in 2008 when Parnell unsuccessfully challenged him in the 2008 Republican primary. Senate and House Democrats are depicted as "heroes."

Deep in the website are sections of incumbents and candidates whom the party describes as "who's on your side" and "who's not." While all the candidates making the "not" list are Republicans, some Republicans are not there at all: Reps. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, and Paul Seaton, R-Homer, are absent, even though Seaton is facing a Democrat in November, Elizabeth Diament. Both Seaton and Austerman crossed party lines to vote against the oil-tax cut in the House. The party also avoids taking shots at Republican members of the bipartisan coalition.

Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.

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