WE DID IT, ALASKA! Oil Giveaway on the Ballot.
Moments ago, the Alaska Division of Elections announced that they had received enough valid voter signatures to put the question of repealing SB21, the massive giveaway of state money to oil companies, on the primary ballot in August of 2014.
After achieving his stated goal of a Republican majority in the State House and Senate (albeit using redistricting lines later found to be unconstitutional), Governor Sean Parnell got the vote he wanted in the 2013 legislative session. The vote in the Senate was made possible by two legislators who are literally employed by ConocoPhillips.
Last month, Parnell signed into law Senate Bill 21 (SB21) giving billions from Alaska’s coffers to BP,Exxon, and ConocoPhillips. Alaska got the short end of the stick, and is now beginning the hemorrhage of billions of dollars from education, public safety, parks, roads, and bridges. The oil companies, the most profitable corporations the world has ever known, stand to gain those billions, with no strings attached. The governor, his supporters, and the oil industry lobbyists’ rationale for the massive giveaway is that it will “incentivize” more production of oil on Alaska’s North Slope. Hopefully. Maybe. If they decided to. Or not.
Fortune Magazine even took note of the situation, speculating in a recent article, “The industry got a coveted tax cut from the state, but did it overreach?”
Oil companies operating in Alaska scored a long-awaited victory this spring when Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation significantly cutting state taxes on oil profits. But even before Parnell put his pen to the tax cut bill, opponents were seeking to overturn it, raising questions about whether the industry was too ambitious in its lobbying efforts—and whether the legislation will ultimately ramp up production on the state’s North Slope as promised.
Did it overreach? Alaskans seem to be saying yes, and saying it quite decisively.
Did it matter to the Governor, and the Republicans in the legislature who supported him that the Alaska Constitution clearly states Alaska’s resources are to be developed “for the maximum benefit of the people?” Clearly not.
Almost immediately after the vote in the legislature that passed SB21, Alaskans from every walk of life, every political party, and from every geographic region in the state banded together in a massive effort to put the question to a vote of the people – Do we let SB21 stand, or do we say enough?
Alaskans succeeded in putting the repeal on the ballot despite the effort of Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and Art Hackney to remove names from the ballot through the anonymously-funded website “imadeamistake.org.”
Treadwell appears to have colluded with Art Hackney and the anonymously-funded organization “Alaska Resources Committee” to organize a withdrawal of signatures from the petition to repeal SB 21. According to a report in the Frontiersman and theAlaska Dispatch, Treadwell told Hackney that the “Alaska Resources Committee” could collect signatures via an unsecured web form and then submit them to the Lieutenant Governor’s office to be withdrawn from the petition. Treadwell, as Lieutenant Governor has the sole statutory responsibility of overseeing the Division of Elections, including impartial administration of citizens’ referenda such as the one Hackney’s organization is attempting to sabotage.
Under Alaska state law, anyone who has signed the petition may remove their name “only by providing written notice to the Lieutenant Governor” (AS 15.45.350). But, Treadwell’s unilateral decision to allow an outside interest group to collect signatures via an unsecured web form does not appear to be based on any statutory or administratively-established authority. Hackney’s web form, which he says Treadwell approved, was unsecured, and one person could actually remove another person’s name from the petition.
Despite this hinkiness, the effort repeal SB21 managed a successful and far-reaching statewide signature gathering campaign. 30,169 signatures from 40 districts across the state were needed to put the question on the ballot. An astounding 898 petition books with more than 50,000 signatures were gathered in a state with a total population of only 700,000. The signatures were submitted last Saturday to the Division of Elections.
Now, of course, the real battle will begin. With more than a year until the question is put to the people, moneyed special interests with billions to gain will step to the plate and prepare for media wars. Fundraising campaigns will be held for the other side as well, as David goes up against the fiscal Goliath of Big Oil. Regardless of the outcome, Alaska’s media market will be a winner.
The Mudflats talked with Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anch), one of the repeal’s strongest proponents about what the initiative means, why SB21 will harm Alaska, and what lies ahead.
Alaskans do have a history of ignoring the “whoever has the most money wins” rule. Back in 2006, despite a huge and expensive ad campaign from the cruise ship industry claiming it would be death for the industry, voters approved a $46 head tax to help cover costs of infrastructure needed for large ships coming to port.
There was no pulling the wool over Alaskans’ eyes then, and it seems there’s no doing it now.
Alaskans have had it. They’ve had it with politicians who sell them down the river for the interest of multinational corporations. They’ve had it with greed. They’ve had it with watching the Alaska Constitution ignored while our children’s future is siphoned out from under us and into the bank accounts of Big Oil.
What happens next depends solely on the willingness of Alaskans to fight for their future, become engaged in efforts to get out the vote, and talking to friends and neighbors. Giving away billions with nothing in return for Alaska? It should be an easy sell.