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Senate leaders put oil company profits first

  • Author: Rep. Les Gara
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 8
  • Published June 8

(Pixabay)

Paying oil companies billions from our dwindling state savings, while cutting schools, help for seniors and those who battle disabilities, isn't an Alaska I believe in. This is one of the little-reported and major sticking points between our Republican-led Senate and our bipartisan House majority coalition. The Senate budget cuts help for kids, students, seniors and disabled Alaskans, but deficit-spends handsomely on subsidies for our oil industry partners.

Your voice matters to help avert a government shutdown I don't believe in. I believe in working for principled compromise. It's long past time legislators leave their ideological boxes so people don't have to fear for their jobs.

My House majority coalition of Republican, Democratic and independent colleagues think schools, seniors and a university that trains workers who'll stay in Alaska come before unaffordable oil subsidies. As does help for seniors who deserve to live with dignity, and abused and neglected children whom we cannot blame for what their parents did to them.

The Senate harmfully cuts all of that, but spends over a third of a billion dollars on oil company subsidies.

Twenty-two of us in the House majority came together this year, across party lines, to pass a deficit-ending plan that is fair to all Alaskans. We believe solving the deficit — fairly — will boost an economy that businesses are wary about investing in, and which lost 7,600 jobs last year.

To make a plan fair we can't just, as the Senate wants, cut the PFD to $1,000, leave a deficit, spend more savings and say our job is done.  That only hits working and struggling Alaskans. It tells thousands of high-salaried corporate owners exempted from the state's corporate tax, and oil executives who roam the Capitol, that they don't have to help with a fair budget plan.

Fairness in part requires our oil industry partners to chip in and stop demanding unaffordable oil subsidies.

In a Finance Committee hearing this week, it became clear that when the Senate gutted the House's oil reform bill, they effectively just renamed Alaska's unaffordable oil company cash subsidies. They've changed that roughly $150 million a year cost to our budget from "cashable credit" subsidies to $145 million in "deductions" oil companies will use to reduce the tax payments they owe to Alaskans. In the end, the state budget is left with the same 10-year, $1.5 billion hole.

When you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.

With a third year in a row of nearly $3 billion deficits, which we have worked across party lines to partially address with $3.4 billion in budget cuts since 2013, it's past time legislators fix, and not just dabble with, a crippling deficit.

Here's why we need to fix our loophole-ridden oil tax system. We receive much less for our oil than our North American competitors in North Dakota, Louisiana and Texas, where oil taxes are much higher and companies pay far more to private landowners for royalties and lease rentals.

At forecasted oil prices, new and most post-2003 fields pay nothing in oil production taxes, no matter how profitable they are, for the first seven years of production. Those are a field's most productive years and that's an unaffordable giveaway.  If ANWR opened tomorrow, those potential high-profit fields would benefit from this zero oil production tax giveaway.

Our oldest fields pay a "higher" but negligible 4 percent production tax. As a result, the oil tax credits and deductions we owe today basically eat away all, or almost all, of the oil production taxes we'd receive. These rock-bottom 0 percent to 4 percent tax rates need to be replaced, now.

The House proposed, in House Bill 111, a modest 25 percent tax on oil company profits. That is fair to companies, as they pay it when they are profitable, and gets us $50 million-$350 million in needed revenue at forecasted $50- to $75-per-barrel oil prices.  We allow fair but affordable deductions to encourage investment in new exploration and development.

The Senate instead further reduces oil company tax payments by about $10 million a year. On top of that, they unaffordably give 150 percent more than the House in deductions (approximately $145 million a year) from company tax payments to Alaskans. That's roughly what Alaskans now pay oil companies in unaffordable subsidies.

Oil tax reform alone won't solve our budget deficit. It will help bring fairness to an overall plan. It will get fixed when one side stops telling the other with folded arms to give up on Alaska and say, "Uncle."

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, is vice chair of the House Finance Committee.  Legislator contact information, so you can share your views, can be obtained by calling 269-0111 or going to www.legis.state.ak.us.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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