JUNEAU — As Alaska lawmakers grapple over oil taxes amid an ongoing budget crisis, the Legislature has hired a new consultant who worked on the Democrat-supported oil-tax legislation of former Gov. Sarah Palin.
Houston-based Rich Ruggiero was hired by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee earlier this month. The contract was negotiated by the office of the committee chair, Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens, without any public notice or discussion. The contract was capped at $35,000, below the amount necessary to come before the full committee for approval, according to a Stevens aide, Katrina Matheny.
Ruggiero was hired at the request of House leaders, Matheny said. He's expected to provide a balance to other legislative oil and gas consultants, Roger Marks and Nikos Tsafos, who are seen as more sympathetic to industry, said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson, co-chair of the House Resources Committee.
"It's understood that Roger Marks and Nikos were sensitive to the industry's arguments," Josephson said in an interview Monday. "It's believed that Mr. Ruggiero might provide a broader perspective."
Josephson's House majority coalition, made up mostly of Democrats, has proposed legislation, House Bill 111, to raise taxes on oil companies. It accompanies House Bill 115, the coalition's plan to reduce the budget deficit by restructuring the Alaska Permanent Fund and instituting an individual income tax.
Members of the Senate's Republican-led majority have criticized the House's new oil tax legislation, saying it would discourage industry investment.
Ruggiero worked as a consultant to Palin's administration a decade ago as it pushed the oil tax legislation known as ACES. ACES set higher tax rates on oil companies at higher oil prices, though those provisions were scaled back by Senate Bill 21, the 2013 oil tax rewrite spearheaded by Palin's successor, Sean Parnell.
Ruggiero gave his first presentation Monday afternoon to the House Resources Committee.
His billing rate is $375 an hour, plus a flat fee of $3,000 to pay for time spent on trips between Houston and Juneau.