Legislators give midsummer report
Despite a big victory in the most recent session of the Alaska Legislature, members of the Chugiak-Eagle River delegation say threats to Alaska’s financial future remain.
“Folks, we have a budget that we just can’t sustain,” said Sen. Anna Fairclough, an Eagle River Republican whose move from the House to the Senate in 2012 helped win passage of a controversial bill to reduce taxes on oil and gas producers.
The former State House representative said she believes the tax reduction will spur new development. But high oil prices have helped disguise just how far Alaska’s oil production has fallen, she said.
According to figures provided by the state, North Slope production has dropped from a high of more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1988 to just under 600,000 bpd in 2013. In Cook Inlet, production has fallen from a high in 1970 of more than 200,00 bpd to around 10,000 bpd.
“Alaskans haven’t really noticed production has been declining,” said Fairclough (R-Eagle River/East Anchorage), one of four Chugiak-Eagle River legislators to address the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce June 19 at the Eagle River Ale House.
Fairclough said she believes new development could help halt that trend, and warned against an ongoing movement to place a citizens’ referendum on the ballot that would reverse the tax changes.
“We believe we need to be more competitive on the global market,” Fairclough said.
Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak/Mat-Su) voted for the tax bill in the House. Since returning home to Chugiak, Stoltze said he’s heard nothing but positive comments on oil taxes.
“What they’re saying is, ‘You guys finally did something,’” Stoltze said. “It’s been universal.”
Stoltze said he was proud of the bill, which only passed after several years of debate in both houses of the Legislature.
“I know I’ve never worked harder in my life in the Legislature,” Stoltze said.
During his speech, second-term Representative Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River/JBER) said the mood in Juneau was significantly different than during his freshman term.
“There was frankly a new spirit of cooperation between the House and Senate this year,” Saddler said.
Saddler said opponents of the tax cut are off base in their characterization of the plan as a “giveaway,” saying it simply puts Alaska on a level playing field with other oil-producing regions.
“It puts Alaska about in the middle of the pack,” he said.
Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) said Alaskans aren’t being honest with themselves if they think the state doesn’t need to spur new oil production quickly.
“We’re always going to make our money on natural resources,” Dyson said.
Rep. Lora Reinbold was the only local legislator who didn’t make the chamber luncheon. Chamber president Pete Mulcahy said Reinbold was traveling and planned to visit the group at a future date.
Although much of the delegation’s remarks focused on the session’s most talked about bill, legislators also spoke about the $2.2 billion capital budget, which Stoltze said isn’t long on frills.
“It’s just the basics,” said Stoltze, who served as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
Among the big-ticket items in the 2014 budget are $2.6 million to the Chugiak-Birchwood-Eagle River Residential Road Service Area (CBERRRSA) for a sand storage facility and local drainage issues, $1.9 million for Yosemite Drive improvements and $1.4 million for upgrades to the stadium and trails facilities at Eagle River High School.
The five area legislators often voted as a bloc during the session, and Stoltze said he was happy with the cooperation he enjoyed with his colleagues.
“When we have a fight, we have it amongst ourselves,” he said.
Fortunately, Stoltze added, that doesn’t happen often.
Legislators said they plan to host a community town hall meeting sometime in the near future, but are waiting to match up everyone’s busy summer schedules. Between meeting with constituents and taking part in community functions, Stoltze said even the “off” season is a hectic time for legislators.
“Eventually I’ll get to wet a line in the water,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727.