Oil Tax Referendum To Appear On Ballot

Supporters of the referendum gather in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Vote Yes – Repeal the Giveaway Facebook page.
Supporters of the referendum gather in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Vote Yes – Repeal the Giveaway Facebook page.

It’s official: A controversial tax cut on oil companies will be put to a vote.

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Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai certified the referendum on the new tax law this Tuesday. While Alaska’s lieutenant governor is usually the authority on ballot propositions, Mead Treadwell delegated that responsibility to Fenumiai in this case. His office says he made that decision because of his status as a U.S. Senate candidate.

In her letter to the repeal effort’s organizers, Fenumiai verified that the group “Vote Yes — Repeal the Giveaway” had met all of the legal requirements to get on the ballot. The Division verified that 45,664 of the signatures they turned in came from registered voters. They needed 30,169 signatures to qualify. The group also met a requirement that those signatures come from across the state. They needed for at least seven percent of voters in 30 districts to sign their petition, and that threshold was met in all 40.

There is a 30-day window where a party could file a lawsuit challenging the state’s decision to approve the referendum.

Jim Whitaker is one of the sponsors of the referendum. He’s not surprised that the Division of Elections okayed the referendum, but he is happy.

“I think all Alaskans should be pleased that we have a chance to make a decision individually about something that is going to affect the future of our state for a long time. And this is our shot. This is our chance to do what we think is right.”

The law the referendum seeks to strike down has been a key priority of Gov. Sean Parnell. It caps the tax rate on oil at 35 percent, with significant breaks for new oil production. At forecasted oil prices, the law is expected to cut taxes on North Slope producers by at least $3 billion over the next five years. Supporters of the new tax policy argue that it will spur investment in the face of declining production. But those behind the repeal effort say the law will lower state revenue without any guarantee of more oil through the pipeline. If their referendum passes, Alaska would go back to a system where the tax rate goes up with the price of oil.

Whitaker says that now that the ballot proposition has been approved, the repeal effort is preparing for an expensive political fight over the next year.

“We expect the other side that has billions of dollars at risk will spend millions in order to ensure that they get an unwarranted windfall,” says Whitaker.

As of July, “Vote Yes — Repeal the Giveaway” had $23,367 on hand for their campaign.

The referendum is slated to appear on the August 19 primary ballot.

agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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