Volunteers Gather Signatures to Put Oil Tax Reform On Ballot

     Even though the state legislature is gaveled out, citizens on the Kenai Peninsula are trying to advance the legislative process in their own way. Rallies against Senate Bill 21 have been held all over Alaska since before the bill that lowers tax rates for oil companies was even voted on.  The effort to get SB 21 on the fall ballot continued Friday in Soldotna.

     With mid-day traffic rushing by Soldotna Creek Park Friday afternoon, Michele Vasquez and Kate Veh had a prime spot to try and grab the attention of people who might be sympathetic to their cause.  She and Vasquez were trying to get signatures on a petition so that the fate of the controversial Senate Bill 21 will go before voters.

     They picked up three more signatures in the short time I was with them. Vasquez describes the effort as sort of a grass roots campaign.

     “We’ve got signs that say ‘Have your say on the oil giveaway: Sign here’ because we want to get as many signatures as possible. We need 32,000 (signatures) statewide. This is one small way we can advertise and it doesn’t cost anything but a couple hours of our time,” she said.

     The group in charge of this effort is called ‘Vote Yes: Repeal the Giveaway’. It was started by Vic Fisher, former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond and former Fairbanks representative Jim Whitaker.

     Veh says the effort is doing well in the cities, but getting those signatures in other places is taking a bit more time.

     “But it’s surprising who comes up to you and is enthusiastic about putting their signature on your referendum. You just don’t know unless you try,” she said.

     Senator Peter Micciche was one of the leading voices in getting SB 21 passed this year and says people have not only the right, but sometimes a duty to try and bring legislation they don’t agree with to a referendum vote. But, he wants people who are gathering signatures and signing the petitions to understand what they’re signing for.

     “Find out why reasonable people who you normally respect and support have gone one way or another on this issue and find out if it’s something you’re truly opposed to or something that conceptually you’re supporting because your friends or your party or someone else has a problem with a particular piece of legislation. I think that’s the case in a lot of this activity.”

     He says assertions by the bill’s detractors that it’s nothing more than a billion dollar giveaway to oil companies are oversimplified. Numbers aside, he says the bigger issue is that Alaska’s resource production is declining while other states are seeing booms.

     “There are states that have turned around their production declines that we never even think of as a producing state. We have great potential in this state and as opposed to riding it down, I think…I honestly believe and I strongly feel that we can begin to turn around that decline and become a leader in energy production as we’ve been in the past,” Micciche said.

     I asked Veh and Vasquez what they’d like to know if, by chance, a legislator came by their post and Vasquez has actually already had that conversation; with Senator Micciche.

     “(I) had my petition and actually asked him if he would like to sign it. Of course he declined, and we talked briefly. You know, we’re just on different sides of the issue. I don’t have anything personally against Senator Micciche, it’s just that I fundamentally disagree. This is a people’s issue. We own the resource and we believe, to the core, that the citizens of this state should have a say in whether or not we give tax breaks to oil companies,” Vasquez said.

     Veh says people just need more time to understand the issue.

     “I think people need about a year to figure this out; to compare ACES to SB 21. We really need to decide for ourselves,” she said.

     The group has until July 13th to get signatures turned into the Division of Elections in order to get the issue put on the ballot for the August 2014 elections.