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.