20 September 2006

Gas Tax

I already know how I'm going to vote on the 90 days ballot question but I haven't made up my mind on the gas reserves tax sponsored by Eric Croft and company.

I bring up the issue because of the excellent coverage in today's News-Miner about the lunch debate on the issue:

Rep. Eric Croft, a Democrat from Anchorage and a primary sponsor of the so-called reserves tax, argued the tax was imperative in getting the main oil and gas leaseholders in the state to build a gas pipeline quickly.

Roger Marks, a petroleum economist with the state’s Department of Revenue, said the tax would slow the process and could even kill the pipeline project.

And Joe Beedle, executive vice president for Northrim Bank, gave the proposed tax a “D grade,” saying it was “discouraging, dangerous and a distraction” that would cause legal disputes and delays.

I interviewed Roger Marks when he was in Nome in May or June and was impressed by his grasp of the issues and his ability to make complex subjects readily available to a general audience. So if he's opposing the tax, I'm inclined to vote against it. I'm particularly swayed by the point about years of litigation.

(Of course, how much is he arguing what he believes and how much is he arguing what his administration believes? The dilemma of a career civil servant is that administrations change but somehow he must maintain his own set of beliefs.)

But I also can intuitively grasp Croft's point about incentives and dis-incentives. I assume carrots and sticks work as well in the oil industry as they do in my life.

An argument I haven't heard made is the message it would send to the oil industry. Alaska's most important industry plays a vital role in the state but I think it would send an interesting measure to the industry if Alaskans approved this tax. It might say that Alaskans - not the energy producers - actually are in charge and do fundamentally have power in this state. Particularly following the partial shutdown of Prudhoe Bay and the VECO investigation, it might be seen as interesting rebuke. Of course, should Alaskans be using this ballot measure as a vehicle for sending a message to the oil companies or should one's decision on how to vote be confined solely to the merits of the proposal?

No comments: