I want to share an open letter to Alaska’s oil industry leaders. The future of our state is in jeopardy — its economy and its people — and we need the oil industry to help.
My message to them is: We’ve defended you, now it’s your turn.
As a lifelong Alaskan, I have always been a fan and defender of your industry — from my days as a kid watching oil money pave Tudor Road to the millions you’ve invested in everything from cancer treatment centers to homeless shelters. More importantly, I have been a loyal defender — and very public about it.
Six years ago, Alaska’s oil and gas industry was suffering from an ill-conceived tax structure created by Gov. Sarah Palin. It was strangling production and investment, crippling our future. Gov. Sean Parnell wanted to make changes but wasn’t brave enough to debate, so I stepped in for him. In doing so, I became the only president in the history of any American chamber of commerce organization to debate a sitting state senator over oil tax reform in front of 800 people.
The Legislature amended the state’s oil tax structure shortly thereafter, but it was threatened a year later by a citizens ballot initiative to overturn the changes. Once again, I was asked to defend the oil and gas industry. I participated in televised debates, defending the tax changes and what they mean to Alaska’s economy.
Along with many Alaskans, I have defended the industry unapologetically. Today I am calling my marker due, as I believe all Alaskans who have supported your industry should do at this time of crisis.
The governor’s state budget vetoes are cynical, vindictive and will wreck Alaska’s economy. The short-term damage alone has been estimated at thousands of jobs lost, increased out-migration and a state that few will want to invest in.
We both know this crisis has been manufactured by a governor who believes larger Permanent Fund dividends are the politically popular answer, that the size of the check takes precedence over all else — building infrastructure, a better education system, and presenting Alaska as an attractive place to live and work. We both know his cry that state government is spending too much belies the fact that we are currently spending at late 1970s levels even as we face 2019 challenges. We both know his claim that the private sector will magically pick up the slack in the economy is blatantly untrue, unless you’ve discovered another Prudhoe Bay that we don’t know about.
This is where you need to speak up.
In the time it has taken me to write this column, you could pick up the phone and encourage half-dozen Republican legislators to save our state by voting to override the governor’s destructive vetoes. Your top executives sit on the boards of the most powerful business organizations in Alaska and have significant sway over Republican lawmakers. Those phone calls could help avert a disaster in our communities — your communities.
There is a relevant history lesson for you to consider. Several years ago, as public anger rose toward the cruise ship industry, the Legislature approached the companies with a solution. Accept a small per-passenger tax and some tighter environmental regulations. It would be the right thing to do and it would help defuse calls for more punishment by taxes. The industry said no. Shortly thereafter, the public responded by passing a citizens initiative of taxes and regulations, so complex they’re still trying to unravel it.
If the governor’s vetoes hold, public anger will grow, as will social costs and damage to our economy. I expect Alaskans will look to your industry’s pockets for answers as the state’s primary revenue stream.
So please, listen to an old friend. Pick up the phone. Meet for coffee. Encourage Republican lawmakers to step away from damaging Alaska’s future and the lives of people who contribute to the economy every day. One call protects the billions that your companies and employees have invested in Alaska. Please, get involved in saving the programs targeted by the governor’s vetoes.
There are no tax credits for helping, just the knowledge that you are helping the state’s future — your future. And the knowledge that your old friends need you now, just as you have needed us in the past. Make the call. That’s what an old friend would do.
Andrew Halcro, a former state representative and past president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, is executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority.
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