Ballot Measures 1 and 2 are just wrong for Alaska - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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Ballot Measures 1 and 2 are just wrong for Alaska

By WIN GRUENING

Historically, Alaskans have always bristled at attempts by outsiders to control our state’s destiny to advance their own agenda.

We persevered as a territory while under the thumb of Seattle shipping and salmon canning special interests. We fought for equality for all residents resulting in the first anti-discrimination act of its kind in the United States. We were successful in our fight for statehood and adopted a unique and model state constitution that has served us well for sixty-one years.

Today, Alaskans are facing yet another challenge to our independence.

I’m referring to the two initiatives that will appear on Alaska’s November ballot: Ballot Measures 1 and 2.  Proponents claim these complex changes to our voting system and how we tax oil companies are urgent and necessary.

No, they are not.  Indeed, they actually pose a threat to Alaskan values and our economic well-being.  They are enthusiastically supported by outside interests that could care less about individual Alaskans.

Ballot Measure 1, mislabeled the “Fair Share Act”, proposes to increase the state oil production tax on North Slope legacy fields from 150-300%.  

Never mind that the oil industry has contributed an average of $3 billion annually in taxes and royalties to Alaska over the last 5 years while taking in about a third of that and that polls have consistently shown Alaskans overwhelmingly support responsible oil development.  

Never mind that oil demand and prices have sunk to historic lows.  Additionally, Alaska’s economy is in free-fall from a pandemic devastating the visitor industry and from a collapse of the fishing industry due to low salmon returns.

Why would we levy increased taxes on Alaska’s economic mainstay – when a 2020 study by the McDowell Group noted it created almost $5 billion in annual payroll, 77,000 jobs, and $4 billion in annual payments to Alaska businesses? This short-sighted tax increase might provide a small windfall in the near-term but would discourage exploration and investment, which is exactly what Alaska desperately needs over the long-term.

Equally as important, Alaskans should ask themselves who supports this effort and be aware that, recently, The Alaska Center endorsed and is encouraging support of this measure.

The group behind this proposal, “Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share”, is funded primarily by Robin Brena, an Anchorage litigator and major Democrat candidate contributor. He has gotten wealthy suing oil companies by, as his biography explains in part, focusing on oil and gas [and] pipeline…commercial litigation issues.” If Ballot Measure 1 passes, he will no doubt benefit from the inevitable litigation that will result.

The Alaska Center is an environmental group funded largely by outside donors who want to control Alaskan energy and environmental policy. Their interest is less in raising taxes than in preventing Alaskans from benefiting from our resources.  If Ballot Measure 1 passes, this lines up nicely with their goal of leaving much of Alaska’s remaining oil in the ground forever.  

Does this sound “fair” to Alaskans?

Ballot Measure 2, entitled “Alaska’s Better Elections Initiative,” is also a misnomer.  It proposes to completely overhaul Alaskan election law by changing how we conduct our primaries and how our votes are counted in a general election.  Its promise to simplify and “clean-up” our elections is contradicted by its nine separate objectives in a proposed bill which is 25 pages long.

Never mind that our state-level system of voting has worked – essentially unchanged – since statehood.  Some outside special interests don’t like the results of our elections, so their objective is to change the system to accomplish what they could not get done fairly at the ballot box.  And never mind that this proposal is opposed by high profile Alaskans of both major parties – most notably former Governor Sean Parnell and former Senator Mark Begich.

So who are the special interests promoting this measure?  Let’s follow the money.

In recent APOC reports, the group backing the measure, “Yes on 2 for Better Elections,” has received over $5 million from three groups: the Action Now Initiative, Unite America, and Represent.Us.

Those outside groups are funded mostly by a small number of out-of-state wealthy donors who want to use Alaska as a laboratory experiment in electoral politics. 

Does that sound “better” for Alaskans?

Regardless of intent, these two measures are misplaced. The deliberative body most representative of actual Alaskans, and thus best suited to decide complex oil tax and election law, is the State Legislature.

There are plenty of reasons to vote down both of these measures. But, even without reading the fine print, Alaskans should be suspicious of outside interests claiming to know what’s best for us.

Exercise the independence Alaskans are known for and vote NO on Ballot Measures 1 and 2.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.

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  • OK, let’s follow the money. On Ballot Measure No. 1, virtually all the money being spent to fight it has come from, you guessed it, outside, multinational oil companies, who simply do not want to pay any more taxes at any time. They are not afraid to spend big to make this happen, which is how we got into this mess the last time there was a referendum on oil taxes.
    There’s a token contribution from a native corporation, but basically this is all oil money trying to tell us they don’t want to pay us for our oil, and we should just give it to them. They’re happy to pay wages to workers up here to get oil they’d have to pay out somewhere else. And what’s wrong with leaving it in the ground when we are essentially giving it away to the oil companies? It’ll still be there if the market picks up, and it will be worth more to us then than it is now. The words suckers and losers come to mind when I contemplate how the oil barons think about Alaskan voters.
    Ballot Measure 2 is pretty simply as well. It’s letting us decide if we want to make a change in an election system that rams certain candidates, chosen by the party muckity-mucks, down our throats as opposed to ranking all of them in order of our preferences. If you like the financial state of Alaska now, stay with the same system that got us here and vote no. If you’d like actually to have some say in who will be running things in the future, vote yes. And if you don’t know the difference, well…
    Once again, Win gets it entirely wrong.

    • Greg, sure let’s double down on taxing the oil industry. Great idea, oil is in the tank at the moment. Makes sense. As for the silly ranked voting measure… I always rank the candidates, I vote for number one! Looks to me like you have wrong, again, and Win is spot on.

      • Oops, you just made my argument. If oil were in the tank, they wouldn’t still be here anyway, so they must have some reason to stay in Alaska, like getting our oil for little or nothing.
        I glad you rank the candidates. Vote for number one. Rank all of them if you wish. You sound like an advocate for rank based voting. Thanks.

    • Actually, I don’t like the financial state of Alaska now and that is why I am voting for actual (rather than make-believe) fiscal conservatives to restore some sanity to our state legislature.
      This ranked voting hogwash will turn us into California where one party can dominate the ballot, leaving other parties without a voice. One person, one vote has worked well for the entirety of our state’s history. The only reason to change it now is because one party feels they have to change the rules in order to come out ahead. Manipulation of the outcome of a primary by Democrats is the reason Republicans chose to adopt a closed primary. Through primary voting, Republican voters decide who the Republican candidates are, not party muckity-mucks and certainly not disingenuous members of another party.

  • I have very thoroughly looked at each of these two ballot measures with an open mind. I have disregarded the fact that in both cases the people who favor these – the same people support each of them it seems – are people who always or almost always stand for candidates and issues I abhor. I am a strong NO vote for each of the two ballot measures based upon the facts. In general ballot measures amount to a very poor way to change law or public policy, and these two are good examples of why that is so.

    • I’m not so sure your mind is all that open, unless your brain has fallen out, because you have a preconceived idea that people with whom you disagree will always stand for things you are against. That’s rigid ideology, not open-mindedness.
      I agree that ballot measures are a poor way to change law, but when the organized government doesn’t respond to the wishes of the people, it is one way to change things up. A ballot measure is the last resort of true democracy. Everyone who wishes gets to have their vote.

  • Agree, VOTE NO on 1 and 2, only an idiot would run the largest industry in the state out of business, and I’m happy voting like always

    • I agree that it’s unwise to run the largest business out of the state, but ballot measure 1 isn’t meant to do that. It’s meant to keep the state in business. If we bankrupt the state, it won’t matter who is in business here because they will take all their profits outside with them.
      If you want territorial status like we had before we became a state, that would be a good way to do it.

  • Well stated. Thank you.

  • I just noticed that Alaska has Ranked Choice Voting on your ballot.
    I’m from Massachusetts and we have it on our ballot as well. Here both senators, state treasurer, attorney general, Boston Globe all are not just supporting the initiative but working the phone banks! No apparent opposition in MA. Personally I hope it leads to more civil campaigns as each candidate wants to be ranked high when not someone’s first choice. Makes parties less important and allows candidates to focus on their constituent concerns.

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