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Radio host pushes oil-tax debate between governor, senator

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- Though radio talk-show host Mike Porcaro has offered an entire two-hour program as a venue, Gov. Sean Parnell is having nothing to do with a debate on oil taxes proposed by Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski.

"I'd love to see these guys debate," said Porcaro, one of the conservative hosts on KENI 650 AM. "I really think Alaskans deserve to hear both sides articulated -- go after each other a little bit, tell us why we should do X or Y."

Wielechowski, from Anchorage, said Wednesday he came up with the idea for a debate over the weekend when he saw a Twitter message in which Parnell claimed the central ground on oil taxes between "extreme D" legislators and the industry-friendly Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

"I just thought, enough of the name-calling," Wielechowski said. "Let's get out there and let the public hear. If (the governor) feels that passionately and he's got enough time on a Saturday night to post something on his Facebook page and on his Twitter account, then he's probably got enough time to sit down and debate me for an hour on it, or two hours, or however long he wants."

What to do about oil taxes has dominated the Legislature for years. Parnell has proposed lowering oil taxes, especially when oil prices are high, saying it would encourage companies to drill more and stem the decline of crude flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline. Democrats and a few Republicans agree that some tax formulas should be adjusted, but they call Parnell's plan a giveaway of billions of dollars with no guarantee that any additional oil would be produced.

Parnell's plans have been presented to the Legislature in his bills and through administration officials, primarily from the revenue and natural resources departments. Parnell himself has made speeches, held press conferences and engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations and discussions with legislators, but doesn't personally testify in legislative committees.

A spokeswoman for Parnell, Sharon Leighow, said Parnell would not debate Wielechowski.

"The debate is occurring in the legislative hearings," she wrote in an email. "As a former legislator, Gov. Parnell understands and appreciates the thorough examination of proposals, by Alaskans and legislators alike, that is carried out during the public process."

Wielechowski used his own Twitter feed to challenge Parnell. On Tuesday, The Associated Press did a short article on the challenge and Parnell's rejection.

That's what Porcaro saw before his Tuesday afternoon program. At first, he and his producer made light of the idea, playing the theme from "Rocky" and recalling Muhammad Ali's notorious pre-fight hectoring.

"I said, 'There's Wielechowski, floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and here's Parnell, the master of the rope-a-dope.' I figured I'd insult both of them equally," said Porcaro, who, aside from his radio show, is CEO of an advertising agency, Porcaro Communications.

Then he got serious.

"I think he and Wielechowski, they're both very nice guys, I think it would be a respectful debate, it would probably be a good one," he said. He said he would turn his entire two-hour show over to a debate, even leave the studio himself, if it would bring the two together.

"I think Alaskans definitely need to know what the leadership is thinking. And all we hear is just bumper stickers."

One "sticker," Porcaro said, is the claim that the governor's proposal would give away $2 billion.

"Well, that's not good," Porcaro said.

The other is the claim that without tax changes, the companies won't drill.

"Well, that's not good either," he said. "So which is it, guys? We really need to hold their feet to the fire and quit this nonsense about letting these guys get away with saying whatever the hell comes to their minds."

Parnell had previously been scheduled to phone in to Porcaro's show -- by himself -- at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Porcaro expects Parnell will talk about oil taxes, domestic violence and other issues, but Porcaro said he will also press the governor on the proposed debate.

Wielechowski, a six-year veteran in the Legislature who helped draft the current tax structure, said he would appear on Porcaro's show or anywhere else with Parnell. He described oil taxes as the state's most important issue with ramifications that will extend to the next generation.

"The way our system is structured, you really don't have time to debate the issues," Wielechowski said. "Everyone speaks in their little silos. Everyone gets up and has a press conference. Then somebody else gets up and has a press conference. There's no chance for the back and forth. There's no chance for one event where the public can tune in."

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com