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Oil tax debate reflects philosophies of more or less government

Paul Jenkins
OPINION: Columnist Paul Jenkins says that an Alaskan's stand in the oil tax debate may well depend on whether he or she believes in more or less government. Pictured: The Capitol in Juneau. Chris Miller

The nettlesome brawl over oil taxation in Alaska at its core is no more than a clash between radically different, competing political ideologies. It is not a small divergence, mind you; it is a Grand Canyon among philosophical divides.

At one end of the spectrum, government is an all-powerful decider, a provider and divider with first claim on wealth, an arbitrary arbitrator of who gets what in an intrusive welfare state. At the other, the “he who governs least governs best” notion of government holds sway.

Statists seek salvation in snarls of regulations, choking collectivism and heavy taxes siphoned off for government whimsy. We are, in their view, incapable of making it without government intervention. Success is punished for the sake of equal outcomes. Corporations bad; centralized government good; capitalism evil.

They believe Article VIII, Section 2, of Alaska’s Constitution, which directs that development of the state’s natural resources be “for the maximum benefit of its people,” means for the maximum benefit of state government. When they prattle on about what is good for Alaska, they really are yakking about state government. To them, Alaska is state government.

For small-government advocates, private enterprise is the societal marrow and should be free - even encouraged - to produce, accumulate and distribute wealth for the benefit of all, with minimal interference. Success is rewarded because it begets opportunity. Corporations provide jobs. In this view, government works for us and is limited, doing only that necessary to secure our rights - economic and otherwise.

These folks see “maximum benefit of its people” as being about jobs, paychecks, a bustling economy and the future rather than an ever-growing bureaucracy with Cadillac benefits packages. To them, when you talk about what is good for Alaska, you are talking about what is good for Alaskans, not government.

What got me thinking about the chasm between the two views was a newspaper column headline: “Oil industry is here for shareholder profit, not Alaska's future.” 

It should be no surprise that any industry, any for-profit corporation, any business seeks profit. Who sets out to go bust? Businesses are not social welfare agencies. Wherever they are, they are about making profit. Oil. Forestry. Fisheries. Law firms. Dentists. Mining. The kids’ Kool-Aid stand down the block. They are all about profit.

Corporations are uninterested in being our best friends but many are great neighbors. Alaska charities, many focusing on kids, families and education, receive tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars from business profits.

Those enterprises - like any of us - want to avoid excessive taxes, which reduce money available for profits for re-investment or dividends to investors and shareholders such as the Alaska Permanent Fund or your neighbors. Those dividends get invested and create jobs and new opportunities.

The column that piqued my interest characterized corporate boards of directors as “modern Ebenezer Scrooges” who “will not have an epiphany of good will toward humankind. They will not because they do not live at this place. The faceless shareholders are scattered across the globe, and their decisions are based on profit.”

Good grief!

Alaska depends on those “Scrooges” and profit. How many of the 335,000 wage and salary jobs available in Alaska - in an out of state government - would exist without them?

We pay no income tax in Alaska, no statewide sales tax. We have a $50 billion Permanent Fund. Guess how much of that is because of state government? Absolutely none. Zip. We can thank the “Scrooges” and small business capitalists who pursue profit and pay taxes.

It is astonishing that intelligent people, statists, have no clue about what makes an economy work. In their world, money must grow on government trees.

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Last week, I said in a column, “(Ted) Stevens had been convicted in a fixed Justice Department case ...” That was incorrect. Yes, the case was fixed but Stevens never was convicted.

The jury voted but no judgment of conviction was entered. Stevens’ lawyers moved to set aside the verdict because of prosecutorial misconduct - and those motions never were ruled on. Attorney General Eric Holder asked the court to dismiss the charges, and an angry U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan did so - specifically stating Stevens was not convicted, and signing an order saying he never was.  

 

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com., a division of Porcaro Communications, which is performing services for the Vote No on 1 anti-repeal effort. He has nothing to do with the campaign.

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