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Questions to fly in oil-tax battle Wednesday in Anchorage

Alex DeMarban

With the state’s big vote over the oil-tax cut approaching, the next public debate on the topic will take place Wednesday night in Anchorage, with a video of the event available later for those who can’t attend.  

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski and veteran economist Gregg Erickson will tag-team on the Vote Yes side supporting a repeal of Senate Bill 21. SB 21, as it's often abbreviated, codified the state's new oil-tax regime, and the state’s major oil companies are spending big bucks to keep that system in place.

The Vote No corner will feature oil and gas consultant Brad Keithley and longtime petroleum economist Roger Marks arguing against the repeal.

The vote will be Aug. 19.

Organizers said this forum, primarily sponsored by Alaska Common Ground, will be different than the rest. Typically, moderators present questions. But this time, the teams of two will do the asking and attempt to drag answers out of their opposition. Spectators at the free, public throwdown will also get a chance to weigh in with questions.   

“I characterize more than half of this as sort of a cross-examination,” said Cliff Groh, chair of Alaska Common Ground. “This issue is complex, multifaceted, controversial and important to Alaskans. It seemed useful to get the sides to question each other.”

Prof. Gunnar Knapp, director of Institute of Social and Economic Research, will moderate. Currently there are no live broadcasts planned, but a video of the event will be available at Alaska Common Ground's website the day after the event, said Groh.  

The event, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Wilda Marston Theatre at Loussac Library, is the first in a series of weekly, Wednesday night forums sponsored by Alaska Common Ground and designed to educate voters about ballot measures they’ll soon vote on.

Future events will also feature experts from both sides. Next up will be issues on the Nov. 4 general election ballot:

• July 30, the minimum wage initiative

• Aug. 6, the marijuana legalization initiative

• Aug. 13, the Bristol Bay Forever initiative

All the events are free and open to the public and will be held at the same time and location.

Other sponsors for the oil-tax debate are ISER, the League of Women Voters of Anchorage, the League of Women Voters of Alaska, the Anchorage Public Library, and Alaska Integrated Media.