25 October 2006

Reserves Tax Debate

The debate on the natural gas reserves tax has heated up in the last few days, particularly given the Scott Goldsmith ISER report criticizing the measure as "a risky proposition for an uncertain outcome." The News-Miner latched on to that to again urge its readers to vote "no."

Of course, there's the counter-argument from Gregg Erickson the ADN printed last week and gadfly Tribal Fires prints a response from him to ISER's Goldsmith and then casts aspersions on ISER's funding and past work.

All of this is liable to leave one's head spinning, particularly mine, which continues to be uncertain about how to vote on this measure. But I did have one thought, amidst the claims and counter-claims and that is this:

Perhaps all this just points to the weakness of ballot-box policy-making. The virtue of representative democracy is that we hire specific people to take a look at the big picture, research potential outcomes, weigh positives and negatives, amend and change proposed legislation, and then reach a reasonable and considered decision about what to do.

But when legislation is reduced to a simple "yes" or "no" vote by all people - educated, informed, or not - something important about that process is lost. We saw the outcome of that in Fairbanks earlier this month. So perhaps the natural gas reserves tax issue should have been settled in the legislature and never made it to the people.

But I'm sure if you told that to Eric Croft et al., they'd tell you they've tried several times and come away empty-handed. One might say that's an indication of relative merits of the measure. But one might also add that in the Alaska legislature oil money talks and it strikes me there might be a group of lawmakers who won't even give the measure the consideration it deserves because they're convinced any "anti-oil" measures are, ipso facto, a bad idea.

If that's the case, they're failing in their job that requires them to give a fair hearing to all proposed legislation. That's an argument for new lawmakers and a new look at the role of money in our political system, not one to take the gas reserves tax out of the legislature and give it to the people.

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