OPINION: If you hate the idea of billionaires and corporations trying to influence your vote, you're going to hate this Alaska election more than ever. At the same time, you need to know before going into the ballot box who's behind the biggest spending this election in Alaska, and whether their corporate interests are truly your interests. What do you think the chances are of that? As voters, we should be treated with honesty, not millions of dollars of emotional spin, with the lying, deep, ominous voices corporate ads will use to scare you into voting for the candidate they want.
The corporate spending goal is a one-party state, that will give away $2 billion per year in poorly crafted oil tax breaks under a governor's bill that lets companies take that money and spend it outside Alaska. A Legislature that has balance on both sides of the aisle, and an oil tax law that requires increased Alaska well, exploration and production investments in return for tax breaks, would serve us better.
This year corporations will use new unlimited election spending rules to try to sway your vote this November. The smart move is to take attack ads and flyers from corporate groups you've never heard of with a grain of salt. Roughly 80 percent of these ads will be negative and deceptive. They were last election.
Why is unlimited corporate election spending on the horizon? Five Supreme Court justices (all Republican-appointed) believe free speech allows you to spend more than most people earn in a lifetime to influence voters, and ruled in Citizens United that outside multinational corporations can spend unlimited money on elections. How's that for letting the privileged buy your democracy?
This year outside oil companies and their allies will spend big to elect legislators who'll vote for the governor's $2-billion tax giveaway -- written so these corporations can take that money and spend it in Libya, Azerbaijan, and other places instead of in Alaska. Nice law if you can get it.
Unlimited corporate election spending was celebrated at the GOP Convention this year. Party and oil industry activist Rebecca Logan took the stage to call Citizens United a "gift" to the oil industry's efforts to elect Legislators who will give them their $2 billion gift of your money.
House Democrats, and Republican and Democratic Senate bi-partisan coalition members will be attacked because we proposed better ideas these outside corporations didn't like. We proposed pro-Alaska tax breaks conditioned on investment in new Alaska fields, new exploration, added development in existing fields, and jobs, IN ALASKA, not Libya.
Unlimited election spending is a threat to the democratic ideal of one person one vote. The Ads will come from shady corporate groups you've never heard of with great sounding names.
Tying tax breaks to increased Alaska investment in processing facilities to move new fields forward, and to increased well development and exploration makes sense. House Democrats voted to do that, and members of the Senate bi-partisan coalition also offered smart ideas that weren't ill-conceived giveaways of your money.
Giving away $2 billion/year of your money will kill our savings accounts, education system, construction budget, law enforcement and construction jobs, and lead to harsh cuts to the PFD or an income tax.
History shows what would happen under the giveaway all House Republicans but Alan Austerman, Paul Seaton and Carl Gatto voted for last year. Until 2006 we had a near 0 percent Production tax on 15 of 19 North Slope fields, and all new fields that weren't massive. Under Big Oil's trickle-down theory, 0-percent Production Taxes should have attracted tons of investment, right? Well, they didn't. While oil prices had risen from $20/barrel to nearly $60/barrel in that time, production declined between 5 and 8 percent a year from 2000-2006.
Oh -- and at least congratulate industry for some honesty. BP admitted in response to questions I asked in committee that if the governor's giveaway passes they WILL NOT do any new exploration in any new fields -- something this state needs. Exxon and Conoco said essentially the same thing. They'll work on continuing production in fields they already have -- which they'd do anyway under current law to maximize the investment they've put into those fields. And, Conoco, under existing law, has already announced it is going to add new production in NPR-A to develop new oil -- something I and others wrote the Department of the Interior to help them with. All this says that giving away $2 billion in tax breaks written in a way that lets them just take the money out of state is a poor idea.
Under current laws these companies call oppressive, Conoco has earned an average of roughly $2 billion in annual Alaska profits. Exxon and BP hide their Alaska profits but Exxon has testified their profits are similar to Conoco's. And employment and capital investment on the North Slope are 40 percent higher today than in 2006 because today companies can only lower their tax rate by investing in Alaska.
Giving away Alaska's money, with no requirement of increased Alaska investment, is a fool's game
Finally, corporations cry firefighters, police and other unions spend too. No union can spend what the Big 3 oil companies, who earned $75 billion in profits last year, will spend. Though unlimited spending by anyone distorts elections.
Look skeptically at the negative attack ads corporate groups will direct at Senate bi-partisan coalition members, and House Democrats. We want tax rules that will work. Those buying the ads want a law that lets them take your money outside. And those ads are coming your way soon.
Rep. Les Gara is a Democratic member of the Alaska House of Representatives. He represents neighborhoods in Anchorage.
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