Oil tax initiative hits its 40,000 signature goal Lawsuit against division of elections looms

Jan 10, 2020

Prudhoe Bay oil fields
Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service

Alaska's Fair Share oil tax initiative announced on Thursday that they have collected the required 40,000 signatures to place their initiative on the ballot. The initiative aims to amend existing laws, most notably Senate Bill 21 A, to increase Alaskan's share of production revenues by increasing the gross tax rate and eliminating net tax credits.
This story has been updated to include initiative sponsor and attorney, Robin Brena.

The group says these changes will add nearly $1 billion a year to state coffers. Larry Smith of Homer has been organizing and collecting signatures.  

"...because you cannot have an initiative on the ballot unless the legislature has had a full session to consider it first. We expect that the senate is pledged to no new oil taxes.," said Smith.
  Alaska's Fair Share will now deliver their signatures to the division of elections. To complicate matters, the group filed suit against the division of elections. The problem is with accuracy in the state-issued, materials, and information relating to the initiative.

"So the law is on the inside of the sample booklet and on the outside is their description. You only have to get to the first glaring error to know that they should have corrected it when we politely asked them, because they changed the figure that's in the actual act of 400 million barrels to 400,000 million barrels, which is a threshold that would never be reached. So, no tax could ever go into effect, " Smith said.  And so Alaska's Fair Share filed suit against the division of elections about six weeks ago. Smith says the division of elections was supposed to respond to the court by December 26th but they did not.  "And they said, well, it's true that you sent this paperwork to five people in the department of law and to the lieutenant governor. But you missed one. So the attorney general had it. The lieutenant governor had it. The division of elections had it. So, now their response to this issue will not be made unless they find another reason to delay it, they have to respond to this by the middle of February or so."

Smith says that if the errors in the election materials go uncorrected by the state, he is concerned that even if the initiative passes overwhelmingly. Their initiative could be overturned by the state supreme court.

"What will the supreme court say if people even vote for this, which they will of course, but then their argument will be, well, they voted for what, the description on the cover?" said Smith.
Anchorage attourney, Robin Brenna is a co-sponsor of the initiative. Brena says that the lawsuit's only purpose is to compel the state to correct the errors it made in the initiative materials.
  Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove is a retired commercial fishermen and nine-term former Alaska legislator. He's the chair of the Permanent Fund Defenders group and says he is in favor of the oil tax initiative.

"It makes a great deal of sense. Why are we giving breaks to something at Prudhoe Bay that was built on our land, belongs to our people. When I went to the legislature in 1962 we didn't get enough out of the Swanson River to pave the road from Kenai to the refinery. Then, there was a rebellion that, you know, there wasn't a Republican or Democrat. It was just the young people saying. Hey, that's ours. We're not giving it away," said Tillion. 

Alaska's Fair Share Act has an office at 3756 Lake Street in Homer.  They will continue to collect signatures until the deadline on January 21st.