Political activist Ray Metcalfe says he is preparing an initiative for the 2014 ballot that would restore a modified version of the state's current oil-tax regime should the Legislature adopt Gov. Sean Parnell's oil-tax cuts.
"The objective here is to have petitions in hand so that if Parnell gets his way and passes something onerous, when the dust settles you've got people ready to put something on the ballot," Metcalfe said Tuesday. "I think (the cuts) would be reversed if it were placed on the ballot."
Metcalfe, a former Republican legislator in the 1980s who created the Republican Moderate Party as a protest to the Republican drift to the right and then joined the Democratic Party, said his initiative was mainly copied from Senate Bill 50, the Democratic response to Parnell. Neither Senate Bill 50 nor its House counterpart, House Bill 111, have had any hearings in the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature, though the bills were introduced more than a month ago.
Parnell says the state's oil-tax regime, Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share, takes too much money from oil companies, discouraging them from producing more oil from existing fields. The Democrats acknowledge that ACES needs modifications, but argue that Parnell's bill would give back more than $1 billion a year to producers without any guarantee of more oil.
Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said the governor's office was unaware of Metcalfe's ballot proposal. She said Parnell had no comment.
Malcolm Roberts, a long-term aide to the late Gov. Wally Hickel and a founder of the oil-industry watchdog group Backbone, said Metcalfe's efforts could be "round two" in the fight against Parnell's tax cuts contained in Senate Bill 21 and House Bill 72.
"There's still a battle that may be winnable to get enough votes to stop Senate Bill 21," Roberts said. He and other Backbone members were in Juneau earlier this week trying to convince senators to vote against the bill.
"Let's not give in to this bill till we've actually lost it, and then we'll go from there," Roberts said.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a lead author of the Democratic tax measure, said he'd back Metcalfe, depending on what eventually emerges from the Legislature.
"I think he's going to find widespread support -- I don't think the people of Alaska support what's happening in the Legislature," said Wielechowski, from East Anchorage. "If it takes a popular citizens movement, an uprising from the people of this state to show that we're sick and tired of a Legislature that's not going to listen to us, I'm going be behind it 100 percent."
Metcalfe said he has two versions of the initiative that he could spring after the Legislature finally votes, assuming it passes Parnell's tax cuts relatively intact.
One of the initiatives would actually raise oil taxes, he said. The other would reduce the current progressive rate of tax increase as oil prices rise -- but it wouldn't cut taxes even as much as the Democratic SB 50 would, he said. Unlike supporters of Parnell's tax cuts, he says that Alaska's tax rates are competitive in the world, and more favorable to industry than in some fields in Mexico and Iraq.
He has the initial round of 140 sponsor signatures for each measure, 40 more than required, he said, but hasn't decided which one he will finally offer. Metcalfe said he's also looking for two prime sponsors in addition to himself to make up the initiative committee.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER