Last word on SB 21
Alaska voters will settle debate over oil tax cut
The referendum to repeal Senate Bill 21, the oil tax cut, won certification for the August 2014 primary ballot last week. Backers gathered more 45,000 valid signatures, about 15,000 more than needed.
So now all Alaska voters will either confirm or reject the judgment of Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature.
This will be the hottest issue on the primary ballot.
With this vote Alaskans will not only be deciding the merits of one bill, but saying something about what Alaska's relations should be with the most powerful industry in the state, just how we define the "owner state" and just how much faith we have in our elected representatives.
Need more? The vote on the SB 21 repeal may well tell us how the governor's race and some legislative races will go.
There's good reason to put this one before all Alaskans, aside from the fact that 45,000 Alaskans have called for a vote.
• The oil tax issue affects all Alaskans. That in itself is not necessarily reason to put the issue on the ballot. We govern ourselves in a republic, through elected representatives, not by direct democracy. But the Alaska Constitution allows for direct democracy if enough of its people call for a popular vote on all but a few issues, and the state's courts have maintained a liberal view of what Alaskans may vote on.
Oil is the state's economic lifeblood. Everything from the health of our Permanent Fund to the quality of our schools, from fish and game management to public safety, draws on the wealth that our constitution says belongs to all of us in common. When enough Alaskans aren't satisfied with how our representatives have voted, they can claim the legislative power for themselves and their fellow Alaskans to settle the issue. That's what's going on here.
• While the passage of some sort of oil tax cut was a foregone conclusion in the state House, the Senate, even after the 2012 elections that finished the bipartisan coalition, passed the bill by only an 11-9 vote -- and two of the senators who voted yes work directly for the oil industry. The vote on SB 21 won't resolve the broader ongoing issue of legislative conflicts and how lawmakers treat them, but will resolve any questions of legitimacy in this case.
• Because all of us will have a voice, we dilute our own self-interests and take the special-interest, lobbying power out of the equation. It won't be enough to persuade a few people in the Capital Building.
That's not to say we're in store for a civics book exercise, pure as the driven snow. The campaign to come could spin us dizzy. Conventional wisdom says results in a referendum such as this can be bought. Sure, but only if we're lazy, only if we're willing to sell. We should look for facts, not cries of falling skies; for context, not just cherry-picked numbers.
No question, it's a big decision. And now it's ours to make.
BOTTOM LINE: Alaska's voters will have the last word on Senate Bill 21.