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Alaska’s past leaders warned of resource exploitation

  • Author: Joe Paskvan
    | Opinion
  • Updated: October 8
  • Published October 8

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, seated center, probably signing the Alaska Statehood, with Vice-president Richard M. Nixon, seated left, and the Alaska delegation behind. Alaska delegation includes, far left to right, Ralph Rivers, Ernest Gruening and Bob Bartlett. Others are unidentified. Circa January 3, 1959 (National Park Service Photograph) Creator Rowe, Abbie

On Nov. 8, 1955, Bob Bartlett (later Alaska’s first U.S. Senator) spoke to the assembled delegates at Alaska’s Constitutional Convention upon “Meeting the Challenge." He mentioned the large land grants to be made to our new state — “100 million-plus acres represent a veritable empire, a wealth of land and resources ...” The land grants recognized: “Today’s citizen expects and demands that government be not only a policeman but a service agency as well ... So, extensive land grants … will be made in order that (Alaska) may start off in a sound fiscal position, capable of meeting the requirements of service placed upon it by its citizens.”

Mr. Bartlett continued his speech commenting upon past exploitation referencing the Kennecott Copper operation- “a 19th century Robber Baron philosophy … (which) left nothing of enduring value to the Territory …” Alaska had experienced “exploitation on a grand scale. But the possibilities of future exploitation in the field of natural resources are infinitely greater than any in times gone.”

Bartlett’s words on “very real dangers” from 1955 are true today:

“Development must not be confused with exploitation … Two very real dangers are present. The first, and most obvious, danger is that of exploitation under the thin disguise of development. The taking of Alaska’s mineral resources without leaving some reasonable return for the support of Alaska governmental services and the use of all the people of Alaska will mean a betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth.”

Those words guide my thinking in 2020 as I write in support of Alaska’s Fair Share citizen initiative.

When Alaska’s generation of past leaders, including Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974 to 1982, defined Alaska’s fair share, it was meaningful to me. That generation worked, pre-oil, to build Alaska and knew of the importance of protecting Alaska. Gov. Hammond defined Alaska’s share as one-third of the value of Alaska’s oil resource under land owned by Alaska. The one-third value of the combined royalty and production revenue streams from Alaska’s legacy fields was a “reasonable return” to “support” services to the citizens — the people of Alaska. Gov Hammond complained Alaska was “shortchanged” when the revenue streams fell to 27%.

Decades later, elected officials failed to remember history and failed to protect Alaska.

In 2013, an oil-soaked and conflicted Legislature and governor passed the SB21 oil tax law. For five full years, 2015-2019, under SB21, Alaska did not receive a reasonable return from the oil resource extracted from land owned by Alaska. Under SB21, Alaska received net negative production revenue — less than $0 due to credits. Alaska, therefore, received less than its 12.5% royalty. The combined royalty and production streams were less than 12.5%. The ill-fated legislation has continually exploited Alaska; it has created a very real danger. Any combined percentage in the teens overtly exploits Alaska. Let’s remember our shared Alaskan history. Let’s remember the definition of “fair share” from our Alaska heroes of the 1970s.

The 2013 elected officials breached their fiduciary duties to the people to protect Alaska and violated our constitutional history. Rather than an oil revenue system capable of supporting “Alaska governmental services” and for “the use of all the people," SB21 caused Alaska to burn through $18 billion in savings, fail to pay thousands of dollars per person in Permanent Fund dividend payments to Alaskans, slash the University of Alaska’s operating funds, trash our essential ferry service, threaten K-12 education and promise more cuts to come.

If SB21 remains unchanged, we are promised no end to the slash-and-burn cuts to essential services and to the families of Alaska. SB21 is a “betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth.”

2013 saw corrupting power of oil executives, oil money, oil lobbyists, oil employed legislators and oil’s sycophants, combined with false promises, all of which created the devastating consequences of SB21. We must not stand by and watch our modern Alaska die. As Bob Bartlett warned in 1955, we are in “danger … of exploitation under the thin disguise of development.” SB21 is the poster picture of that exploitation.

Did Bob Bartlett talk in 1955 about where we are now and where Alaska should not have been since 2013? Yes, he said: “If the public domain of Alaska is frittered away without adequate safeguards, the state of Alaska will wend a precarious way along the road that leads eventually to financial insolvency.”

Alaska must get off that road.

SB21′s $8 per-barrel credits on a post-tax calculation and deductions unrelated to the field that produces the oil and deductions allowed on land not owned by Alaska all play a tragic role in destroying revenue from our legacy fields. Yes, Bob Bartlett spoke in 1955 about the necessity of political maturity. Alaska’s 2013 legislature failed miserably to “meet the challenge." The political leadership lacked the political maturity demanded and demonstrated in 1955.

The only solution for Alaska to get off SB21′s road to insolvency is a citizen’s initiative that will assure a fair share for all and a prosperous future.

Keep Alaska’s constitutional history in mind when you vote yes for Alaska’s Fair Share Act, Ballot Measure 1. Alaska’s future depends upon it.

Joe Paskvan is a lifelong Alaskan and retired attorney. He served in the Alaska State Senate from 2008 to 2012, including a year as co-chair of the Senate Resources committee. He lives in Fairbanks.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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