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Vic Fischer: Thank you, everyone working to repeal Alaska's oil giveaway

Vic Fischer
OPINION: Thanks to the hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of people who signed the referendum petition, Alaskans can vote yes on Proposition 1 in the August primary.
Stephen Nowers illustration

This holiday season, I have been incredibly grateful for all the Alaskans who are working to defend our resource wealth. In the 60 years since I worked alongside many great Alaska leaders to draft our constitution, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support for our Alaska values.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who gathered petitions to put repeal of the oil giveaway on the ballot. Thank you to the 50,000 Alaskans who signed the petition. Thanks to you, we can vote yes on Proposition 1 in the August primary.

The stakes could not be higher. Less than a year after passage of the SB 21, the oil tax giveaway, Alaska ran up a $1 billion deficit. Just last month, the governor acknowledged that Alaska will lose $2 billion in oil revenue in Fiscal Year 2014, a stunning one-third of the state’s total oil revenue. The news just keeps getting worse: When he released his budget, Gov. Parnell admitted there is a $3 billion deficit over the next 18 months. These kinds of budget deficits are unsustainable, and we will only get back to balanced budgets by repealing the giveaway.

Remember, not too long ago we were running up large budget surpluses. In 2007, a bipartisan group of legislators passed “Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share,” an oil tax system designed to get a fair share for Alaskans. This system, known as “ACES,” had a progressive tax structure so that when oil prices went up Alaskans also earned more oil revenue. As a result, Alaskans saved $17 billion between 2007 and 2013, wiping out an older deficit. We didn’t just save money for the future: ACES revenue helped us weather the 2008 recession by investing in capital infrastructure projects that kept Alaska laborers, carpenters, ironworkers, engineers and other workers on the job.

Unfortunately, SB 21 swept ACES out the door and started a new era of massive budget deficits. Of course, the oil giveaway is wildly unpopular. It only passed the Legislature after the governor gerrymandered the state Senate and eliminated popular Republican and Democratic incumbents. The oil giveaway then passed the Senate on a 11-9 vote, with the deciding votes being cast by two ConocoPhillips employees, a clear conflict of interest.

After the oil giveaway passed, we worked with hundreds of volunteers across Alaska to begin repealing it. Pundits predicted that it would be impossible to collect the required 30,000 signatures in 90 days. But within 75 days, 50,000 Alaskans from every corner of the state signed petitions to have a referendum on repealing the oil giveaway. As a result, during the primary election in August 2014, Alaskans will be able to vote “YES” on Proposition 1 and defend the “Owner State.”

I have been privileged to be part of this effort that seeks to preserve our rights under Alaska’s constitution. It follows the spirit of great Alaskans who fought for our resources: Bill Egan, Bob Bartlett, Jay Hammond, Wally Hickel and others. We have joined them in defense of what Hickel defined as the “Owner State” and insisting that “It’s our oil.”

Over the holidays, I reflected on how the future of our state is in good hands. Not in Parnell’s hands, not in the lobbyists’ who pull strings in Juneau. But your hands, in the hands of Alaska voters!

So thank you for standing up for Alaska values against those who would sell us out to Outside interests. Thank you for defending the Alaska that we all know and love.

Vic Fischer served in the Alaska Territorial Legislature and later its state Senate and was a delegate to the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.