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Alaska Supreme Court orders Dunleavy administration to fix language on oil tax ballot summary

A segment of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline photographed along the Richardson Highway between Glennallen and Delta Junction on May 13, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Alaska Supreme Court has ordered Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to correct the ballot summary for the proposed Fair Share Act that seeks to raise taxes on the oil industry.

The two-page decision upholds an earlier ruling by Superior Court judge William Morse, who found in June that Meyer did not provide an “impartial” summary of the measure as required by law.

It’s a victory for the group backing the initiative, Vote Yes For Alaska’s Fair Share Act. The ballot measure group filed suit in November, naming Meyer and the state Division of Elections.

“It is unfortunate we had to bring suit against Lt. Gov. Meyer to get him to fulfill his duty to provide a true and impartial summary of the Fair Share Act, but this is a victory for the voters,” said Robin Brena, initiative chair. “The Supreme Court upheld their right to an unbiased ballot summary.”

Meyer had proposed a summary claiming if the Fair Share Act passed, tax filings would follow the state’s normal process for the public records act, which could allow the state to deprive the public access to the records, Morse had found.

The Fair Share Act is in part designed to make the tax filings of the state’s major oil producers “a matter of public record.” It would bring in about $1 billion extra in production taxes, targeting producers with the state’s largest oil fields, including Prudhoe Bay.

In its decision, the Supreme Court partially approved a request from Meyer to add new language to the ballot summary. The ballot summary can now include the line, “The act does not specify the process for disclosure of the public records.”

Facing low oil prices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is expected to pay about $120 million in taxes in the current fiscal year that began July 1, the lowest amount in at least a decade.

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