Les Gara served in the Alaska State House from 2003-2019. He currently works on children’s issues and writes on Alaska’s fishing and outdoors. (Courtesy Photo / Les Gara)

Les Gara served in the Alaska State House from 2003-2019. He currently works on children’s issues and writes on Alaska’s fishing and outdoors. (Courtesy Photo / Les Gara)

Opinion: Voting yes on Ballot Measure 1 is voting yes for Alaska

We should be partners with the oil industry, not junior partners.

  • Wednesday, October 21, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

By Les Gara

Next year, Alaska will finally pass the breaking point. Our deficit will be far greater than the remaining savings to cover it. Our future is grim without the very fair, very needed revenue Ballot Measure 1 will provide. With almost $20 million that London- and Texas-based oil companies have spent to defeat this measure, they’ve said everything but the truth — that Alaskans will be left holding the bag if they get their way. They understandably want to keep their unjustified oil tax breaks on the three largest, most profitable fields Ballot Measure 1 applies to. But that’s out the desire for corporate welfare, not care for our state, an Alaska Marine Highway that’s crucial to Southeast residents and businesses, and the things we need to protect an Alaska we believe in.

It’s time to address their misleading ads.

First, Alaskans can’t afford to keep giving away unjustified tax breaks to corporate shareholders who don’t care about damaging needed support for our schools, seniors, kids, Marine Highway and communities. They don’t care that there won’t be enough money either for those who support these core Alaska functions, or those who support larger PFDs. There won’t be the funds for either. Folks on all sides will be left battling to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic.

We don’t have to live with self-inflicted poverty.

Here’s another fact the oil company ads leave out. Alaska’s nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division estimated this summer that next year’s deficit will be between $1 and $2.5 billion, depending on whether the PFD is $1,000 or $3000. We will have a deficit even with no PFD according to the State’s Spring 2020 revenue forecast.

What about the savings the state has used, in combination with $1 billion in constant budget cuts since 2015, to “balance” the budget? Those cuts have increased class sizes across the state, eliminated over 1,000 teachers and education staff, basic ferry service, over 100 university degree and vocational certificate programs and harmed Alaskans both rural and urban. Our state construction job budget has been cut by over $400 million, which is the equivalent of roughly 6,000 jobs we need, could have, but don’t.

Without those jobs, fewer people shop at Alaska’s businesses. That in turn has harmed or closed small businesses and the loss of thousands of private sector jobs. Their ads get the job impacts backwards.

Voting no on 1 will kill more jobs and more businesses.

Here’s another reality.

Before oil companies got the Governor and their allies to lower oil taxes in 2014, Alaska had built $17 billion in savings. Those savings are now gone. By this coming legislative session we are projected to have just $500 million left in savings, which can’t cover a $1 billion – $2.5 billion deficit.

What else do the ads say? They shamelessly pretend their campaign is funded by Alaskans. Over 99% of their funds come from British and Texas corporations.

And they mislead by claiming the Alaskans who form the Alaska’s Fair Share Act campaign are “outsiders.” Over 99% of the funds for the Alaska’s Fair Share campaign comes from 700 hundred-plus Alaskans. No outsiders direct this campaign or are allowed to influence it. I’ve asked the industry campaign group to stop running these false ads. They’ve declined.

Their ads ask you to worry about oil company profits. You can sleep soundly there.

ConocoPhillips, an owner of the three massive fields (called “units”) that Ballot Measure 1 applies to,

is the one oil company required by federal law to report their Alaska profits. The others refuse.

Their last four Annual reports show they made a hefty $5.2 billion in profit in Alaska, and lost $2.45 billion in all other 49 states combined. Alaska is Conoco’s cash cow.

Passage of Ballot Measure 1 will leave the total oil production tax and royalty rates paid in Alaska lower than those charged in Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota and other states.

We should be partners with the oil industry, not junior partners.

I believe in a state that can train workers to strengthen our economy, support small businesses and provide opportunity and dignity for my urban and rural neighbors.

Voting yes on 1 is voting yes for Alaska.

• Les Gara was a member of the Alaska House of Representative from 2002 to 2019, and has lived in Alaska with his wife, Kelly, for 32 years. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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