Minority Democrats plan referendum on oil tax bill

JUNEAU — Minority Democrats, outraged by the passage of a multibillion-dollar oil tax cut, said Monday they plan to support an effort to try to overturn the measure.


Former state legislator and political activist Ray Metcalfe announced Sunday that he is pursuing a public vote on the matter. He said Monday he hopes to submit an application to the Division of Elections in the next few days.

He and his group would have 90 days from the end of the legislative session, which was Sunday, to gather more than 30,000 signatures, and if those are approved, the issue could appear on next year’s primary ballot.

The odds are long. According to the Division of Elections, just three public votes have been successfully proposed and appeared on the ballot in Alaska. Two have passed.

During a post-session news conference Monday, minority House and Senate Democrats said they would help the effort.

“Let’s let the people weigh in, because I believe the people of the state will throw this out,” Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said. “They will not stand by this.”

The measure is an overhaul of Alaska’s oil tax structure aimed at getting more production and investment. Supporters consider it an investment in Alaska’s future and say they couldn’t stand by and do nothing as oil production — Alaska’s economic lifeblood — continued to decline.

But critics say it’s too big a gamble with no guarantee of what Alaska will get in return.

Legislative opponents of the bill complained about the quality of and access to information surrounding the bill and questioned whether its effects were fully understood. Republican leaders said they buckled down, made wise use of their time and were able to accomplish what the people sent them to Juneau to accomplish.

Metcalfe said there’s “more than a little outrage” over the bill’s passage.

Gov. Sean Parnell, who has unsuccessfully pushed for oil tax changes in the past, praised legislators for acting on his bill this year. Of the possibility of a public vote, he referred to the past election, saying, “I think the referendum was last November.”

Republicans seized control of the Senate in last year’s elections from a bipartisan coalition that, in 2011, blocked a tax cut proposed by Parnell. Coalition leaders said they didn’t have the information necessary at the time to make a sound policy call.

The coalition-controlled Senate last year failed to reach agreement on a comprehensive tax overhaul and settled for a plan targeting new production that got torpedoed in the House. A proposal put forth by Parnell in special session was criticized by lawmakers in both chambers and parties as ill-conceived. Parnell tried an entirely new approach on taxes this session. Republicans currently control the House, Senate and governor’s office.

“I think the voters voted that it was time to stop studying the issue of declining oil production and do something about it,” he said.