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4-2-12 - Citizens -- Not "Elitists" -- Sent Juneau A Tax Reform Message Last Week

News Miner/AP by Becky Bohrer.  This could be the week the Senate releases its long-awaited oil tax plan.

Those living in Anchorage should put Wednesday, April 4, 5 p.m. on their calendars for  a, "Public Rally For Fair Trials and Justice for Senator Ted Stevens (NGP Photo), at the PenAir Hangar, 6100 Boeing Avenue.  Enjoy the Rally, BBQ, good times.  Sign an open letter calling for government accountability and reform at www.alaskansforjustice.com.

First thing Monday morning, 7 a.m. Alaska Time, I'll be appearing on Dan Fagan's television show to discuss the nuances of gas pipeline announcements Friday from Governor Parnell's office and from the three major Alaska North Slope Producers.  Readers might be able to view live here, online. -dh

CBC News.   The federal budget, released Thursday in Ottawa, Canada contains some of the biggest cross-country cuts since the 1990s.  Old age security eligibility will be raised to the age of 67, the penny will be phased out, and about 19,000 public sector jobs will be cut over the next three years.  The budget also includes several plans for the country's North.  Among the most notable plans is $225 million to repair harbours across the country.  Included in that money is a plan to "accelerate" the construction of the harbour in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, in Canada's eastern Arctic, which was originally announced in 2009.


Over A Thousand Alaskan Citizens -- Not Elitists -- Sent A Powerful Tax Reform Message To Juneau Last Week.

Commentary by

Dave Harbour

 

Last Wednesday, a thousand citizens representing 19 diverse organizations and hundreds of companies met in Anchorage to demand that Legislators not come home without having enacted “meaningful tax reform,” leading to improvement in Alaska's investment climate.  (Note: more links and event photos to follow later today.)
 
Then I read a report the next day in the Alaska Dispatch that I could hardly believe.  The normally even handed publication abandoned any reasonable, professional standard – even for an editorial – and characterized the event as an elitist gathering. It used silly, misleading and unrelated examples and further disparaged and degraded citizens attending through innuendo.  (See Dispatch story here.)
 
The author, a Dispatch Staff Writer, began by describing a huge meeting of very normally appearing folks in Anchorage as "...munch(ing) on $40-a-plate chicken and vegetable mix, listening to like-minded people telling them things they already believe...." and "…wearing suits and ties, stilettos and little black business skirts.  …Prada purses and Lancôme lipstick and aftershave with hints of pine and snow.”  That description would fit for half the meetings occurring in Anchorage—though a little exaggerated.  Heck, this writer munches at every meal and that day I wore a tie and noted that most didn’t--though everyone did seem to be wrapped in clean clothes.  Neither did I smell any aftershave or perfume on anyone though I typically don’t stroll through an audience attending an event I’m covering, sniffing for strange scents upon which to report.  Nor did I ask any lady to open her purse for me to inspect the brand of lipstick she preferred, though I can’t swear that the Dispatch journalist couldn’t have spied such a brand.
The Alaska Dispatch writer used innuendo to attack a decent gathering of Alaskans. 
  
But innuendo aside, what’s wrong with anyone wearing a tie or high heels?  And what’s wrong with an ‘Oil Company’ audience, even if this wasn’t one?  Heck, every Alaskan should give thanks to the Good Lord daily for the miracle that is oil and for the abundance of it that is found in Alaska.  After all, our Constitution is based on resource development.  And—something the Dispatch writer may not have been told--without the Swanson River Oil discovery in 1957, Governors Egan and Hickel, Bob Atwood and their colleague lobbyists would not have been able to convince Congress to successfully pass and President Eisenhower to sign the Alaska Statehood Act in 1958.
 
I was more intent on the message.  Governor Sean Parnell (NGP Photo) said something that allSean Parnell, Oil Taxes, Rally, Make Alaska Competitive  Dispatch readers – all Alaskans -- would surely appreciate knowing, had the writer quoted him:  “Alaskans don’t live in a world of ‘we can’t.’ We live in a world of ‘can do.’ We live in a land where billions of barrels of oil are yet to be recovered. We live in a time where Alaskans can unlock this oil for our own benefit and for future generations.”    (Here is the link to his entire speech for NGP readers.)
 
The meeting was held in the Dena’ina Convention Center in the center of downtown Anchorage.  The place seems to be jumping all year long with every sort of Alaska related meeting from tourism to Native to engineering and commercial fishing to international trade to Rotary and chamber and education and governmental meetings.  The Dispatch writer seemed more than eager – even desperate -- to distinguish this as a ‘different’ audience.  
 
But critically listening and then commenting on the substance of the meeting apparently didn’t produce the message that interested her.  So she aimed a cheap shot at the citizens attending, attacking them by innuendo.  She noted that the meeting was an “oil industry rally in downtown Anchorage, just a few minutes from Nordstrom.”  A professional editor or fact checker should have said to her, “Seriously?  Most of the people in that room were not employed by oil companies and every meeting held in that building is ‘a few minutes from Nordstrom’.”    
 
I was personally moved – intellectually and emotionally – by the presentations and found them full of fact and first hand anecdotal detail supporting tax reform. 

 
Cordelia Kellie, a recent college graduate newly hired by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation spoke of the opportunity the oil industry gives to young people, particularly in rural areas.


“Oil fuels our economy," said Steve Robustellini, event speaker and resident of Port Lions, Kodiak.  “It provides the funding for our schools, communities and infrastructure. I left a dying timber industry when I moved my family from California 12 years ago. I have seen the consequences of lost revenue from an industry that is the lifeblood of a state. It is not so much about ‘Big Oil’ as it is about Alaska, its people and communities. We need a globally competitive tax structure and long-term sustainability.”   (Here is the link to his prepared speech for NGP readers.)
 
Matanuska Valley housewife and small business owner Laura Maketa brought more than one set of eyes to tears with her story: “My husband and I began our entrepreneur ventures in 2003 by selling everything we owned, moved into a little camper through a very cold winter, with our two boys, and built our first duplex. Our businesses have grown into our family business, Mak 3 Construction….  To keep our guys busy and to continue a viable business, like many other Alaskan companies, we found work in North Dakota last year.  We have only a handful of employees working in Alaska, and we will be looking to North Dakota for work again this spring.  The current tax structure under ACES,” she said, “ is crushing business growth in Alaska. We are already behind the curve fixing this economic storm that will occur when TAPS gets to the magic number in which it is no longer viable.  According to Baker Hughes rig count when North Dakota had 160 wells being drilled we only had one.  TAPS is diminishing yearly and the current federal regulatory barriers and state tax structure is creating a doom and gloom atmosphere regarding future prospects in Alaska. “  (Here is the link to her prepared speech for NGP readers.)
 
Former Governor Tony Knowles agreed. “By all accounts today we are resource abundant, just as we were in 1981. The fields are harder and more expensive to develop, but we know they are there. We are not resource short; rather, we are capital investment short.”  Then Knowles recounted the story we have been telling several times a year about the great “fair share consensus” of 1981 that most policy makers and journalists try ardently to avoid mentioning.  That agreement--broken by current tax creators--led to 20 years of tax stability and enormous investment.   Hear our recording of that event here.  “In 1981”, he said, “then Republican Governor Jay Hammond (NGP Photo-L) pulled together a historical press conference with himself the Speaker of the House Jim Duncan and the President of the Senate Democrat Jay Kertulla and party leaders from both side of the aisle and bodies of the legislature, Ed Dankworth, Don Bennett, Sam Cotton, and Hugh Malone, and declared in no uncertain terms their joint decision in arriving at what they had determined together was Alaska’s fair share of revenues.  It was at a time of then record high oil prices of $35 a barrel and production was at 1.5 million barrels a day and growing.  “There loomed a huge fight of forces wanting both higher taxes and lower taxes”, said Knowles.  “ Jay Hammond and the legislative leaders – before the details were determined -decided that Alaska’s fair share would be no less than a roughly one third one third one third split with industry, the state, and the federal  government.  With that decided Jay also noted that a mutually fair share would also bring stability and for almost twenty years this model led to more revenues, more investment, and more production. It was a tough judgment call by good Alaskans – and it worked.  The percentages today are far different with an existing tax regime that overall has the state share at more than sixty percent of total revenues and increases dramatically at the margin with higher oil prices.”  (Here is the link to his presentation.)
 
Of course, the Dispatch staff writer did not mention that the Mistress of Ceremonies was not some diamond-studded oil baron, but Barbara Huff Tuckness, of the Teamsters Union, who also spoke eloquently of the need for tax reform and improvement of Alaska’s investment climate.
 
Neither did the Dispatch writer mention that during the Rally, Huff asked participants to complete comment cards with their opinions on oil tax reform. Those comment cards were copied, made into books, and delivered to legislators in Juneau the following day.  

 

The Dispatch writer easily dismissed a similar Fairbanks rally two days earlier by "reporting", “…it was likely a much more subdued affair.”  A simple phone call to Fairbanks might have revealed the true result to her.  According to one of our sources, “hundreds of Fairbanks residents” showing up at the Carlson Center heard civic and business leaders talk about why oil tax reform is needed now.  On a per capita basis, that Interior Alaska turnout might be considered more impressive than the Anchorage gathering.
 
The Dispatch story was illustrated not with charts and graphs or speaker quotes describing Alaska’s competitive tax position with other oil producing areas but with a photo of luncheon brochure hand-outs positioned under a piece of dessert cake. 
 
Particularly offensive was that the story ended, not with a critical analysis of Governor Knowles’ or any other presentation, but with irrelevant, caustic criticism about his service as Governor.
 
The luncheon audience was as diverse as has ever gathered in Anchorage.  It included some oil company employees and managers but was mostly composed of ordinary citizens and members of the following diverse grouping of organizations representing a huge range of Alaskan interests—not just one special interest: Alaska Bankers Association; Alaska Crab Coalition; Alaska Cruise Association; Alaska Energy Forum; Alaska Forest Association; Alaska Miners Association; Alaska Oil & Gas Association; Alaska State Chamber of Commerce; Alaska Support Industry Alliance; Alaska Trucking Association; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce; Anchorage Economic Development Corporation; Associated Builders and Contractors; Associated General Contractors; Consumer Energy Alliance Alaska; Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce; Council of Alaska Producers; Make Alaska Competitive Coalition; Prosperity Alaska; and the Resource Development Council.
 
We have generally respected the diligent reporting of the Dispatch.  We would hope that a forthcoming, sincere apology for this unwarranted attack on fellow citizens could help reinstate it as a professional journal dedicated to solid reporting and fair editorial comment. 

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