Democrats in the Alaska House of Representatives are criticizing the oil industry's "Faces of Aces" ads as misleading, but the oil industry group that sponsored them say it's the state's politicians who are out of touch.
"These ads are untrue and unfair to Alaskans," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kerttula is Democratic leader in the House, and spoke at a press conference with other Democrats Tuesday.
Kerttula allied with former Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007 to pass Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share Act over the objections of many Republican leaders in the Legislature.
That tax increase passed with most Democrats and some Republicans joining with Palin, and resulted in additional billions flowing to the state's treasury as oil prices shot up in 2008.
While other states are struggling and cutting budgets, Alaska has been continuing to spend on capital projects around the state, even while it socks the surplus into savings. The state's unemployment rate has spent most of the last year below the national rate, an unusual situation.
Kerttula said it was the additional revenue brought in by ACES that has kept the state's economy going.
"If it hadn't been for that change, we'd be in a crisis economy right now," she said.
The Faces of Aces ads were sponsored by the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the industry group representing oil industry subcontractors, which criticized the Democrats' comments.
"It would be good if they did a little current research before asserting that others are lying," said Paul Laird, the group's executive director.
Laird said investment was down on the North Slope, hundreds of jobs have been lost, and it was because of ACES.
"If they read newspapers they would know that there hasn't been a single exploratory well drilled on the North Slope this year," Laird said.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said state employement data disputed the industry contention that there are fewer jobs due to the tax increase.
"Since ACES, compared to 2006, jobs are up 9,000 to 13,000, investment is up roughly 20 percent," Gara said. "You wouldn't get that impression from reading the Alliance ads."
Laird said the state's data is old, and there have been many layoffs, including those people in the ads, in the last few months.
Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, said layoffs are a fact of life for oil workers, and that in one year during which he was a steelworker he received W-2 forms from 11 different employers, half on the slope. He'd finish a job, go back to the union hall and then be back on the slope for another employer -- sometimes on the same oil field.
Crawford said his friends still working on the North Slop say employment is strong, and questioned whether companies were laying off Alaskans while bringing in others to work there.
"They say the camps are full and they have no beds for more people," Crawford said.
He also questioned whether lowering ACES tax rates would bring jobs for Alaskans, given minimal exploration in previous years when taxes were very low.
"If we are going to give big tax breaks to the oil industry, are they going to translate into Alaska jobs, because it hasn't in the past," he said.
Kerttula said tax reform wasn't a partisan issue, as Democrats worked with Palin and former governors Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond, along with top Republican leaders such as Rick Halford to reform the state's taxes and get it a fair share of the Alaska's oil wealth.
"Thank God we have money in our coffers for our schools, our roads and our police," she said.
Find more legislative coverage online at www.alaskalegislature.com.
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