It's no surprise that this year's Legislature never seriously considered passing a reserves tax on North Slope natural gas. A reserves tax reflects a mind-set that's mostly foreign to those in charge in Juneau.
The tax would make it more expensive for the Big Three producers to keep warehousing Alaska's gas. It might help nudge those multibillion-dollar, multinational companies to make good on their talk about building an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
But use the state's taxing power to try to get North Slope gas flowing, after 30 years of watching it sit locked in the ground? That's heresy. Partly, the reasons are political: The Republicans who run the Legislature are closely aligned with and supported by Alaska's most powerful industry. Partly, the reasons are just caution about stepping into a very contentious arena.
But too often in Juneau, promoting the North Slope gas line is a one-way street. The state gives concessions, and the producers take them. Inflicting financial consequences for failing to produce the gas on our state leases is a nonstarter. State gas line policy is all carrots, no stick.
Fortunately, Alaska offers voters a way to do what lawmakers in Juneau refuse to do. Voters can impose a reserves tax by initiative. It's not an easy process. It requires 31,451 signatures from registered voters. And a recent constitutional amendment makes voter initiatives even more difficult. Petitioners have to obtain scores of signatures per district in 30 of the state's 40 House districts.
Those hurdles aren't stopping state Reps. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks. They're launching a petition drive to get a reserves tax on the 2006 ballot.
Their effort is a useful tactic for two reasons:
First, a reserves tax might actually change the financial calculus enough to break loose a gas line project. To avoid the newly imposed cost of continuing to warehouse our North Slope gas, the Big Three would have two choices. They could move forward with a project of their own. Or they could make the gas available to pipeline companies that would build their own gas line. Pipeline companies don't necessarily need the same high rate of return on investment as a major oil company.
Second, and more importantly, the reserves tax initiative sends an important message. It says Alaskans aren't going to just sit around and wait for whatever goodies may be handed to us by Outside interests that exploit our natural resources.
The reserves tax initiative says Alaskans will act to influence our own destiny. It says we'll do that even if our politicians won't do it for us. It says Alaskans are not afraid to play hardball with multibillion-dollar business interests that are used to playing hardball all over the world.
Alaskans have waited 30 years for the companies that hold state leases on the North Slope to decide that a gas pipeline pencils out for their shareholders. Alaskans have waited long enough. It's time for North Slope gas holders to stop holding our North Slope gas and get it to market.
The reserves tax petition is one way the average Alaskan can ratchet up the pressure for a North Slope gas line. Look for it and sign it.
Anchorage Daily News,
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