Opinion: Does a ‘deliberative body’ know best?

The history of our current oil tax law casts doubt on that assumption.

Ballot Measure 1 is a citizen’s initiative. It is on the ballot because Alaskans were willing to put their names on a public petition. Some voices are saying laws should always be created by a “deliberative body,” like the Alaska Legislature. The history of our current oil tax law, written in 2014 as Senate Bill 21, casts doubt on that assumption.

Senate Bill 21 was initiated by request of a governor whose prior employment had been as “director of governmental relations” for Phillips Petroleum. It then passed the state Senate by a single vote. Among the winning votes cast, two were by senators whose employer was Conoco-Phillips. A third was cast by a member whose spouse contracted with oil companies.

The two oil company employees requested to be excused from voting, as should be expected given their overwhelming personal interest. But in the Senate, that is a gesture, and nothing more. In that deliberative body, if even one person objects to your decision not to vote, you must vote. Everyone voted.

Governor Parnell’s automatic signature made Senate Bill 21 a law. It would never have reached his desk had those members in the Senate with a personal interest not been allowed a vote.

If Ballot Measure 1 becomes a law, we should expect some immediate polishing by the Alaska Legislature. However, any amendments to the public initiative may not be so radical that they are ruled a repeal by the State Supreme Court.

Lawrence Hurlock,


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