A forum was hosted at the Loussac Library Wednesday for people who want to learn more about one of Alaska's most contentious issues in this year's elections -- whether to repeal Senate Bill 21, Gov. Sean Parnell's overhaul of state oil taxes.
SB21, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session, reduces the state’s oil production taxes. Parnell and other backers of the bill say the rollback is necessary to stimulate development in the face of declining Alaska oil production.
After more than 45,000 signatures were collected to place Ballot Measure 1 before voters, however, SB21 could be repealed if Alaskans approve the measure on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. The Anchorage Young Republicans hosted Wednesday's forum to discuss SB21's fate.
Economist Scott Goldsmith, with the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research, recently presented a study in which he questioned Ballot Measure 1 supporters' description of SB21's tax reductions as a "giveaway." Speaking at Wednesday's forum, he said that according to his research the new tax structure could be a good thing.
“It would be good for the economy if employment increased, production increased and revenue increased because the petroleum industry is the biggest, most important private sector we have in the state,” Goldsmith said.
Douglas Smith, CEO of Alaska-based oil company Little Red Services, agreed with Goldsmith when he took his turn at the podium.
“This spring our decline was less than a tenth of a percent compared to last year, when we were down from 2012-2013 by almost 6 percent.” Smith said.
Backers of Ballot Measure 1 believe the oil tax reductions will only benefit oil companies, not Alaskans.
“If this state doesn’t get a fair share for the oil that it has left, we will eventually take away the (Permanent Fund Dividend), slap you with an income tax and start spending the Permanent Fund until it’s dry,” said Ray Metcalfe, with Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway.
Many speaking Wednesday say they didn’t show up to persuade people toward a yes or no vote on Ballot Measure 1, only to educate voters about an issue affecting Alaska’s most important resource.