Editor’s note: This is the third of five opinion columns the Clarion will run from the front-runners in the gubernatorial race for the primary election on Aug. 22.
Alaskans deserve an atmosphere of trust in government. But broken promises, averted eyes from ethical lapses, booted-out conscientious state employees and things like the governor’s jet are the much ballyhooed issues that illustrate the disconnect between established politicians and the rest of us.
Hopefully, though, as we consider the most important economic issues facing Alaska in decades, may these aforementioned reminders of things amiss share ink so we can debate additional issues that are also of utmost importance. As obstinate as the jet purchase is, oil taxes and long-term gasline deals are such a focus now. 618
Underway in Juneau are long overdue oil tax revisions. Legislators are analyzing the governor’s proposal to change formulas and though they’ve been placed in an unfair position, being urged to “rush” through deliberations, they know of their obligation to put a value on the resources we own. We must increase our fair market share when our valuable nonrenewable resources are sold at a premium.
The governor’s tax proposals involve complex new terms, credits and formulas, and as the former chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, I know these issues can be difficult to keep up with, considering the industry’s areas of expertise and public relations influence.
Industry negotiators are some of the sharpest professionals on earth, with decades of experience dedicated to their company’s bottom line. Our negotiators are citizen legislators or political appointees who sometimes are dependent on industry for their next job.
It may look like we’re outgunned at the table, but thankfully we can compete because we’ve got supremely powerful ammunition. It’s called the Alaska State Constitution and it provides our strength as we deal with corporations whose ultimate goal is to make themselves maximum profit and leave as little behind.
I respect industry’s contributions to our economy as it pumps our oil, gets it to market and makes mind-boggling profit off our resources. I personally appreciate the blue collar job opportunities industry provides, am in fact married to a Slope worker, so I’m not out to bash industry nor do I expect officials to use a hammer in negotiations. But I do expect us to stop acting weak and confused and just do the right thing for Alaskans, via our Constitution.
Here’s what the Constitution says: negotiate for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans. Period. That must be the objective. It really is that straightforward. Officials can make this easier on themselves by committing to not to let politics, cronyism or campaign cash get in the way of this objective. I’d remind officials if they find themselves struggling or confused, please simply reflect on the guidance provided by Alaska’s founders. Remember one’s oath of office where one’s sworn to defend the unequivocal terms mandating development and conservation of natural resources for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans. Not outside interests, but Alaska’s interests.
I implore officials to negotiate from our position of strength. As former Gov. Walter Hickel wrote, “Legislators should simply hold up a copy of Article VIII and say, ‘I swore to uphold this document, I’ll keep my promise.’” Our good legislators need only defend the public’s interest and they’ll inherently do what’s right.
It’s amazing to consider the perspective our founding fathers had when crafting the Constitution. An astute Alaskan recently said, “It’s almost like they knew to protect something they didn’t even know existed yet.”
What they knew to protect may not have been fathomed in their wildest dreams whilst writing the document, but I believe their concerns are manifesting today with these negotiations.
Alaskans deserve to be listened to as our resources are on the table. Our message to officials: use restraint, don’t rush decisions that have long-lasting impacts. Don’t tie oil taxes to a gasline agreement that doesn’t guarantee a gasline will ever be built and that hasn’t invited entities to compete for the right to tap our resources.
More specifically to the governor: trust the public with all the information. Please don’t hand oil companies control of our revenue by undefined terms and undeveloped credits. Don’t give retroactive credits to stimulate investment decisions made years before, as “retroactive incentive” is an oxymoron. And please work with our legislators, not against them.
Simply, let us trust decision-makers to uphold the oath to defend our Constitution.
Sarah Palin is the former AOGCC chair and former mayor of Wasilla.
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