Government runs better when it’s hitting all cylinders


Posted: Friday, April 28, 2006

Wrangling over a proposed North Slope gas pipeline deal and oil industry tax has had an odd affect on the state’s government — it makes branches want to pretend the others don’t exist.

While Gov. Frank Murkowski’s administration was negotiating with oil companies over the terms of a gas pipeline contract and a plan to revamp how the industry’s profits are taxed by the state, the Legislature was kept in the dark. Talks were held behind closed doors, away from public and legislative scrutiny.

Once the plan was hammered out to the governor’s and oil companies’ satisfaction, the oil tax measure was handed over to the Legislature to approve. The gas line deal is still under wraps and won’t be revealed until May 10, according to the governor — after the oil tax legislation is passed.

Legislators have grumbled about the executive branch’s attempts to usurp their right to have a hand in crafting the legislation. It’s the Legislature’s job to examine measures proposed by the governor and decide whether they’re in the best interest of the state, and if not, change them so they are.

Yet even though the legislative branch knows firsthand what it’s like to be snubbed, there are bills in the works that seek to do just that to the judicial branch.

There are several steps on the road to nailing down a gas pipeline contract. One is settling the oil tax issue, and another is having the Alaska Revenue commissioner rule that the contract suits the Stranded Gas Development Act and the long-term financial interest of the state.

Bills working their way through the House and Senate would prohibit courts from reviewing the commissioner’s determination. The justification behind the legislation is it would quash lawsuits that could slow down the process of ratifying a gas line deal.

So to recap, some legislators feel it’s unfair that the governor expects them to approve an oil tax deal without letting them in on the details of the gas line contract that hinges on the outcome of the oil tax legislation. Yet some members of the Legislature find nothing wrong with trying to limit the judicial branch’s say in the matter.

Did we miss something?

The justification for the bills is the oil tax measure and gas line deal are vital to the state’s future and need to be worked out without delay. That’s true, but a need for expeditious progress on the issues doesn’t trump the need for proper review of them.

It is precisely because these matters are so vitally important that all branches of the state’s government must have a hand in making sure all “i”s are dotted, “t”s are crossed and legal requirements are met.

The executive branch doesn’t have the right to create and enact legislation on its own; neither is the legislative branch designed to sit in final judgment of legal matters.

If ever there were an issue that required all branches of government to work together, determining the future of oil and gas production in Alaska is it.

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