Chamber report card: Alaskans deserve better

Corporate influence on Alaska politics is growing. Corporate agendas are sometimes good, but sometimes conflict with the interests of Alaskans. Their job, by statute, is to maximize corporate profits. Our job is to represent our "shareholders" -- you. The most recent attempt to pressure legislators into toeing a corporate line this coming session -- and to get us to make a "pledge of corporate allegiance" -- is a fake "report card" the Chamber of Commerce and others just issued. By the way, the Chamber's biggest donors are Exxon, British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips. The Alaska Chamber has never bitten the hand that feeds it.

The best example of how the Chamber has done these cards was in 2004. This year's no better.

In 2004 the Chamber graded legislators on issues pushed by Bill Allen. The former VECO boss has since been convicted for bribing legislators to keep Alaska's share of our oil resource as low as possible.

In that so-called "report card" they rated legislators on the "Bill Allen Bill" -- which would have let more lobbyists donate more money to more legislators. Those of us -- Democrats and moderate Republicans -- who voted to uphold strict limits on lobbyist donations got a bad mark.

They pressured us to double what wealthy donors and PACs could give to candidates. Those of us who voted for lower limits got a bad mark.

They tested us on whether we would gut a voter initiative to raise the minimum wage annually with the cost of living. You got a bad mark if you refused to gut this provision.

This year the Chamber has joined with the Resource Development Council -- which Exxon, British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips are the largest members of; the Alliance -- businesses that contract for the Big Three oil companies; and a shadowy group that hides its donors -- called "Prosperity Alaska". One of that group's two listed members quit because the "grading" process was a biased sham. Roughly a half dozen very political, right-leaning "Graders" gave the bi-partisan Senate majority an "F." These groups punished Democrats and Republicans who worked together. I think it's good for legislators to work across party lines.

All the Republicans who voted for the Governor's bill, to roll back Alaska's oil revenue by $1.8 billion per year, with no commitment of additional investment or jobs, got a good grade. Democrats and Republicans who said we should adopt a smarter plan, that required Alaska jobs and investment to get a lower tax rate, got bad grades. Despite claiming they rated us on things like "leadership" -- the truth is they rated us on what Exxon, ConocoPhillips and British Petroleum wanted.

As this session proceeds you'll hear more about these "report cards." You should just know where they came from.

The truth is I've supported legislation that would bring North Slope jobs. Under HB 231, for example, companies earn a lower rate if they explore in new fields; or build processing facilities to put new oil into the pipeline; or increase drilling activity. I've pushed the federal government to allow ConocoPhillips to develop in NPR-A, and believe a bureaucratic Army Corps of Engineers decision blocking a bridge ConocoPhillips needs to build will soon be reversed. I voted to help start-up small Alaska businesses. I just didn't give Corporate America everything they demanded.

Investment and hiring are up by 40% since 2006 under our current law, which is based upon incentives that lower the tax rate if you invest in Alaska.

We can always do better. But simply lowering taxes on oil companies lets them take that $1.8 billion a year in reduced taxes, and send it out of state. That's what they did before 2007, when we had a very low tax rate, production was declining 8% a year, and we had far less investment on the North Slope.

Tax reform that requires Alaska exploration and investment makes sense. Giving $1.8 billion a year away on a hope and prayer might be what Exxon wants, but it's not what Alaskans, our shareholders, deserve.

Rep. Les Gara is a Democratic member of the Alaska Legislature. You can reach Rep. Gara or sign up for his newsletter at rep.les.gara@legis.state.ak.us.

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