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Alaska nonprofits should unite against oil tax referendum

Eddie Grasser
OPINION: Non-profit organizations know better than most just how valuable a healthy oil industry is to Alaska.
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I grew up on the “Last Frontier” before there was an oil economy and for that I’ll be forever grateful as I got to experience a whole different Alaska than the one we live in now. Most of my friends and their families were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but with gardens, moose meat and salmon caught in subsistence nets set in Knik Arm, we did fairly well. Life was much harder and I did things with my Dad that most parents today would probably view as extremely dangerous and quite likely inappropriate, but I viewed it all as a great adventure. Swimming horses across major rivers like the Copper, and crossing high mountain passes such as Skolai Pass on the old Gold Rush trail between McCarthy and Chisana were “all in a day’s work.”

That all changed with the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay. Alaska’s economy got a whole lot better and our human population began increasing. The “oil economy” brought with it many changes some of which affected my family’s hunting and fishing guide business. We ended up having to leave our area in the Wrangell Mountains as it became a National Park. Such circumstances led to being more active in the conservation community, where working with others we strove to preserve the traditions surrounding Alaska’s fish and wildlife.

Like many hunter-conservationists I wanted to “give back” to Alaska and its wildlife, so after I retired from guiding in 1994, I became more involved with nonprofits that support conservation. Nonprofits have raised and spent millions for on-the-ground conservation programs like the Safari Club International’s support of the wood bison restoration project, or Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s efforts to secure thousands of acres of habitat here in Alaska.

There are hundreds of nonprofits in Alaska supporting everything from healthy communities to environmental concerns, and every single one of them depends upon the generosity of their donors. In order for individuals and companies to be able to donate, Alaska needs a healthy economy. Gov. Parnell and the 28th Alaska Legislature worked hard to ensure a stronger economy by passing SB 21. I don’t know about my fellow leaders in the nonprofit world, but I believe they did the right thing for Alaska, and in the long run, it will prove to be the right course of action for the nonprofit sector.

Oil companies and their contractors donate huge amounts of money to the nonprofit sector, plus they supply the lion’s share of the money nonprofits receive through the annual budget process in the Legislature. Beyond that, every Alaskan who chooses “Click, Pick, Give” when filing a PFD application is actually re-allocating their share of oil money to a nonprofit. In short, without a vibrant oil industry in Alaska, many of your favorite charities would be struggling or closing their doors.

Alaska isn’t the only place where companies can develop oil and without a reasonable tax system, they may very well choose to invest elsewhere and wind down operations in Alaska. SB 21 gives us a fighting chance to build a better economy and a better future. Like most of my counterparts in the nonprofit world, I believe passionately in the mission of our organization. I also believe that for us to succeed we need a strong economy. That is why I am voting no on Ballot Measure 1 and encourage my compatriots in the nonprofit world to do likewise.

Eddie Grasser is president of the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska.

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.