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Senate is working on its egg, but will it be golden?

Posted: March 25, 2012 - 8:00am

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles last week urged state legislators and Gov. Sean Parnell to come together on an oil tax plan.

Lawmakers and the governor, Knowles said, should be working together to reach what he called a "united Alaska fair share." What's more, Knowles said Alaskans should demand that the Legislature not adjourn without doing just that.

In this day and age, the idea almost seems novel -- expecting our elected representatives to work together in the best interests of Alaskans.

It's a concept we'd encourage everyone in Juneau to embrace, but in the current climate, it will take bold leadership.

The House passed Parnell's tax-cut plan, HB 110, last year, but the Senate has refused to take the bill up. Instead, the Senate has begun the task of writing its own bill to address the state's oil tax structure, SB 192. But the governor and industry officials say the Senate's work-in-progress plan doesn't do enough to encourage more oil production.

The Senate had set a goal of getting its bill to the House with at least 30 days left in the session, but that deadline has come on gone, and SB 192 remains in committee, where legislators continue to listen to the same analysis -- the progressivity triggered when oil prices are high, as they are now, is a disincentive for more investment on the North Slope, and that investment, measured in billions of dollars, is crucial to stemming the decline of oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Meanwhile, the governor and Senate leadership are egging each other on. According to the Associated Press, Parnell, in a letter to Senate Finance Committee co-chair Bert Stedman, said a number of senators are proud of the work that's been done, but that, "like a group of hens in the barnyard clucking together over a new egg that has taken more than a year to lay, the egg is shiny on the outside and empty on the inside."

And Senate President Gary Stevens responded that senators are indeed working on an egg, and it will be "beautiful."

And that's where we stand now -- and indeed, the same spot in which we've been standing for more than a year.

So, what comes next? How do we get from where we've been stuck to a united position on Alaska's fair share of oil money?

We'd ask our legislators and governor to remember why they were elected in the first place: to represent the best interests of Alaskans. And one thing all sides can agree on is that the more oil that flows through the pipeline, the better it is for all of us. We've got all of our eggs in the oil and gas basket, so to speak.

In this case, leadership is going to be defined by a willingness to let the legislative process work. Last year, the Senate sat on its carefully laid eggs rather than letting the House have a crack at a few of them. That session ended with egg on everyone's face.

We certainly hope the Senate can deliver on its promise of a beautiful egg -- it'd be nice if we could see it before the Easter bunny does. We hope when SB 192 moves to the House, legislators there will find enough that they can work with it, rather than simply rejecting it as the Senate has done with HB 110. They may need to scramble it a little, but you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

We hope both bodies acknowledge if and when an oil tax measure makes it to a conference committee, it may not look at all like the original -- but the point of a conference committee is to resolve those differences.

And we hope the bill that goes to the governor's desk is palatable -- to the administration, the oil companies we'd like to see investing in Alaska, and most of all, Alaskans.

That's an awful lot to hope for, and maybe we're counting our chickens before they hatch. But it's also what we expect from our elected representatives, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.

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