This area’s legislative delegation presented a united front at last week’s meeting of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, with each one taking time to stress the need to reform Alaska’s oil tax structure.
“We’re all in this together,” started Rep. Bill Stoltze, who chairs the House Finance Committee.
The House has already passed Gov. Parnell’s proposed bill, which would cut taxes to oil and gas producers in hopes of spurring more Alaska development.
But the bill has been blocked in the senate, where a bipartisan coalition has staunchly fought its passage. Legislators who spoke to the chamber on Wednesday, Dec. 21 said they expect the production tax issue to be the dominant issue in Juneau when the new session begins on Jan. 17.
“My number one issue is adjusting our petroleum tax,” said Sen. Cathy Giessel.
Five of the area’s six legislators — Reps. Stoltze and Anna Fairclough, as well as Sens. Giessel, Charlie Huggins and Fred Dyson — attended the meeting. Rep. Dan Saddler was out of town for the holidays, but said via email that he, too, wants to see the oil production tax changed.
Giessel said the governor’s bill is needed because oil companies don’t have enough incentive to drill in the state.
“Right now, the world views Alaska as closed for business,” she said.
Dyson, Huggins and Giessel are in the minority in the Senate (“by choice,” Dyson said), but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually get their way. Huggins told the chamber that he believes that the tax structure will be changed in favor of producers — though he didn’t say whether that will mean a compromise bill or a change in the power structure in the Senate.
“I’m hoping you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the end of this session,” he said.
Stoltze said he’s hopeful that the often-contentious debate that dominated the previous legislative session will give way to more cooperation this time around.
“I’m hoping that calmer heads will prevail,” he said.
While the production tax issue dominated legislators’ remarks, some other issues were mentioned. Sen. Huggins said he’s hopeful more work will be done to move the Susitna Hydroelectric project forward in the coming year.
“That’s a huge deal for us as we’re going forward,” he said.
The primary message of the legislators’ remarks, however, seemed to be that Chugiak-Eagle River’s delegation plans to work very much as a team when they return to Juneau next month.
“That doesn’t happen in other districts,” Fairclough said.
Before the lawmakers’ remarks, Chamber president Pete Mulcahy also took time to give Stoltze a special award for his work representing the local community.
“Sometimes you don’t get the recognition you deserve,” Mulcahy said.
Stoltze appeared a bit embarrassed by the honor, and motioned for the crowd to quickly sit down as it rose for a standing ovation.
“I’m just glad someone besides my mom likes me,” Stoltze quipped.