Oil Tax Repeal Officially on the Ballot

POSTED: 12:37 PM AKDT Jul 29, 2013    UPDATED: 10:45 PM AKDT Jul 29, 2013 
Anchorage, Alaska -

Alaskans will officially be able to decide whether the state legislature got it right on oil tax reform in the 2014 primary election.

The Division of Elections confirmed Monday morning 31,673 signatures to repeal SB 21, passed during the legislative session earlier this year to lower the tax rate on oil and gas industry. Opponents of SB 21 call the legislation, which was recently signed into law, an oil giveaway.

"When you give upwards of $2 billion a year to Exxon, Conoco and BP, and say they can spend it outside of Alaska, that's not a good oil tax system," said Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). "We need to rewrite it and require that tax breaks be invested in Alaska. The public understands that."

Supporters of the oil tax reform say it is necessary to spur production in the state, which is declining.

"They (lawmakers) made a conscious decision to make some significant reforms that we think will put more oil in the pipeline. So now we look forward to continuing this conversation as we lead up to the August 2014 election," said Alaska Oil and Gas Association's Executive Director Kara Moriarty.

Backers of the effort to repeal SB 21 submitted more than 50,000 signatures in early July, just 90 days from the bill's passage. They say the legislation does not guarantee new production and that Alaska's oil wealth should first benefit Alaskans.

"Having this bill on the ballot gives Alaskans a chance to say 'Do we control our own resources or do we allow them to be handed over to outside interests?'" says Zack Fields, communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party.

The Division of Elections is in the first phase of signature verification, which is done by computer qualification, says Gail Fenumiai, state elections director. Once that process is complete, the next phase is manual qualification, verifying the signatures the computer was not able to match.

Fenumiai says the Division of Elections expects to complete verifying signatures by the end of August. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell has 60 days from that date, to certify the petition for the primary ballot.

Channel 2's Abby Hancock contributed to this story.