STICKING IT TO THE JOB CREATORS
On a crisp Saturday morning, a panel of white-haired men sat on the stage of the Wendy Williams Auditorium at University of Alaska Anchorage and answered each other’s questions about the state’s budget problems.
Libertarian-leaning United for Liberty had manage to push its way onto the agenda, with a cameo on the morning panel by Ric Davidge. Davidge was the only voice to express the need for spending cuts at the panel, which was part of a symposium hosted by Alaska Common Ground, a left-tilting organization that masquerades as a neutral public policy group.
Run by hardcore Democrat Cliff Groh, when Common Ground puts on a symposium, rest assured there won’t be a lot of diversity of thought. There was not a lot of diversity anywhere, if we’re perfectly frank, at least in the morning sessions.
Commissioner of Revenue Randall Hoffbeck started off the discussion by proposing the governor’s approach of modest cuts and immodest new revenues, while former Senator Rick Halford argued against cutting the Permanent Fund dividends, and Rep. Paul Seaton poured a cup of his own blend of taxes and Permanent Fund restructuring that would take from the rich and give to the poor.
Halford, we note, recently broke with Gov. Bill Walker on the governor’s unilateral grab of half of every Alaskan’s Permanent Fund dividend. Halford also recently all but declared the Alaska LNG gasline project dead — for now. Once an ally of Walker, he’s returned to the fold of the loyal opposition; he did not seek reappointment to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board.
Then there was Robin Brena.
ROBIN ‘SUE THE BASTARDS’ BRENA
Robin Brena is an Anchorage oil and gas attorney who has made a luxurious life for himself by suing energy companies. He has no official role in the Walker Administration, although he chaired the governor’s transition team oil and gas committee. He bought the governor’s law practice for an undislosed amount.
Brena is widely regarded as Gov. Bill Walker’s surrogate voice — in elections and in policy. When Brena’s lips move, the voice you hear is Gov. Walker’s.
Brena’s appearance on the panel today was an acknowledgement that since he is spending tens of thousands of dollars to unseat Republicans during this election cycle (and the last one), what he has to say is very, very important.
He spoke rapidly and repeatedly about how Alaska is not getting “our fair share” of oil proceeds. It was a phrase he made sure he said every time he had the microphone.
Not quite Tourrette-like, it was a mantra like “It’s our oil” that Brena wanted to make sure everyone heard. And so he repeated it.
In fact, he said “our fair share” eight times in the span of the 10 minutes that he possessed the microphone. An astute observer pondered aloud whether he intends to start a citizens’ initiative using that name, since he’s trying to make it stick in the public’s mind.
BRENA CALLS FOR 400 PERCENT TAX HIKE ON OIL
What Brena proposes is that the oil sector should be taxed to make up the entire state budget deficit.
At today’s prices, he’s proposing a 400 percent tax increase.
“We are getting less than our fair share of petroleum revenues,” he said. “Before we go anywhere else [for revenue] we should get it from the oil exported from Alaska…Our historic fair share went from 35 percent in 2012 down to 8 percent. This is unsustainable.”
“Our fair share is $2-3 billion more than we are getting right now,” he continued.
Brena paused briefly in his theme to also promote a state income tax of 15 percent of a payer’s federal tax liability, “so citizens of Alaska pay directly and are more responsive to spending by state government.”
But all the other sources of revenue, he said “don’t get us an additional penny of our fair share of petroleum wealth.”
When his turn came to ask a question of the rest of the panel, Brena persisted with his theme: Did anyone on the panel believe that we should reduce spending, raid the Permanent Fund dividend or levy statewide taxes when we’re not yet “getting our fair share of oil?”
“My question is that we need someone who will stand up for Alaskans and get our fair share of petroleum revenue and not to continue this system,” he said.
The “our fair share” theme is also found in Brena’s latest opinion piece published today by the Alaska Dispatch News.
In it, he proposes completely restructuring oil taxes once again. The last restructuring was with Senate Bill 21, which passed in 2013, was then challenged at the ballot box by Brena and the Democrats. SB 21 was upheld by voters.
Brena now proposes returning to the prior tax structure, which was a job killer:
- Increasing the base rate for the major legacy fields and for harvesting the resource.
- Eliminating credits (taken as deductions and paid) for all but the most challenged fields.
- Eliminating loss carryforwards.
- Eliminating the “new oil” definition or reducing it to only the most challenged fields (which would not include Point Thomson).
- Increasing progressivity, which is exactly opposite of what voters passed when they approved SB 21 with “No on 1” in 2014.
- Increasing the number of state auditors and state lawyers to go after producers for revenue.
- Insisting on full financial disclosure by producers operating in Alaska.
SURPRISE! ACES IS BACK
What Brena is proposing is the same things that killed jobs and prosperity for Alaskans before, with the bill known as ACES. That legislation depressed investment in Alaska, and it took SB 21 to bring work back to the oil patch.
Those who wonder what’s next in taxes in Alaska will want to read Brena’s opinion piece in the newspaper, because within it is found the roadmap for legislation that Gov. Walker will likely propose during the next legislative session.