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September 23, 2017

Calling the Mosquito Fleet

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My darling Alaskans, I am starting to feel like these columns I write are more like letters to the people and place I love. It is blowing sideways on the bay today and the snow, defying gravity and all rules, seems to be traveling upward while accumulating on the ground at the same time. My ermine friend is shrew hunting — which is my favorite thing about him — and has learned to do a trick or two for cheese bits. I’m watching with one eye the mushers vie for position in the Yukon Quest and with the other, the Trump clown car crashing. I get bits of relief and humor from the newly minted minority in the Alaska House of Representatives.

Eagle River Rep. Dan Saddler thinks we’re in danger of becoming a “Banana Republic” and whined about “the tyranny of the majority.” What a precious snowflake.

Republican Mike Chenault would like the majority to consider “the feelings of the minority.” Sorry if you were just taking a sip of your good morning coffee and it’s now all over your newspaper or computer screen. That’s adorable, Mr. Chenault. I haven’t forgotten the one time I agreed with you. It was a beautiful, clear day with all the planets aligned and it was revealed the “Corrupt Bastards Club” — the legislative members who were popped by the FBI for selling their votes to big oil — had gotten their name from you. There was some honesty in advertising. Maybe you could help the latest incarnation of KEEP Alaska Competitive.

Yup, they are back. You remember the same outfit who says they aren’t part of the oil companies, just there to help oil get their fair share because oil companies are benevolent masters we should all bow to? OK, I took some poetic license there, but unless you just fell off a Mat-Su turnip truck you can make a list of their failed claims and promises.

“Pay us more to take your birthright oil and we’ll hire Alaskans! Pass SB 21 and we will love you like a sparkle pony!”

How’d that work out for you, Alaska? Oh, it didn’t. First, if the “marketplace” will work, then why do we have to incentivize the most profitable corporations in the history of humanity to make money? We can’t. Alaska may be a big state but their operations are global.

This week, Robin Brena gave testimony at the House Resources Committee. He’s an expert, meaning he knows more about this issue than anyone elected to office in Alaska. Because of his litigation against the owners of the oil pipeline, billions of dollars were recovered for Alaska communities. Why? Because oil companies were overcharging themselves to use the pipeline and then writing that off — avoiding taxes to Alaska. We tend to forget corporations have only one job and it’s not to be our friend — it’s to make money for their shareholders.

Brena, wearing an invisible cape of blue with eight gold stars, said: “For the first time in our history, through our production tax, we are paying the producers to produce our oil. That’s ridiculous. We’re not even bringing in enough revenue under the current production tax to pay the petroleum credits we are incurring under it. That’s ridiculous. Alaskans are getting less for their petroleum resources than at any time in history. We are doing a worse job than we have ever done in realizing a share of our petroleum resources. You just can’t avoid that fact. When you look at it on a net basis, it’s negative! How in the world does a production tax turn negative on your watch? ON YOUR WATCH?”

Senate President Pete Kelly of Fairbanks isn’t even curious about oil taxes. His response? “Of course, the other body is looking at some oil taxes. At this time the Senate is really not interested in taking that up.”

I remember when Fairbanks was tough — now they are declaring themselves “not a sanctuary city” and electing people who forgot to pack their big boy pants when they headed to Juneau.

Wait! There’s more! Call now and we’ll double your order of “You Can’t Make This Up!”

From last week’s ADN: “The percentage of out-of-state residents working in Alaska’s oil and gas industry inched up for the sixth straight year in 2015, reaching 36.4 percent, according to newly released figures from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.”

“‘In 2015, the oil industry employed a record number of nonresidents,’ says the report, written by state economist Neal Fried. The number reflects a steady annual increase since 2009, when the nonresident hire rate was 28.1 percent.”

Well, that seems like the complete opposite of all those shiny ads from a few years ago.

Next year, Alaska will get $89.7 million in production taxes and owe $1.3 billion in tax credits and deductions. Who are the real welfare queens now?

As noted by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, one of our precious few senators not known for being an oil suck-up: “ConocoPhillips released its 2016 4th Quarter SEC Report today. It produced 163,000 barrels of oil per day and 25 million cubic feet of gas in Alaska in 2016 and MADE $319 million here.
It produced 195,000 barrels of oil and 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day in the Lower 48 and LOST $2.2 billion there.”

It’s nuts how lawmakers will say schools — with all their variables and changing needs — need to show test results before we can fund them, but don’t apply this same logic to oil companies. Sad! Because they haven’t held the industry to a constitutional standard, we won’t have money for schools, either.

I know it’s hard to keep fighting this same Groundhog Day scenario, year after year. I keep reminding myself — I can’t be a bear; I don’t have that kind of power, and chances are you don’t either. We can be the mosquitoes in the tent, though. We must. Anyone who has ever been camping knows it’s more likely to be driven crazy by that buzzing in your tent than a bear knocking over your cooler. Buzz on, Alaska. Be the Mosquito Fleet.

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2 Responses to “Calling the Mosquito Fleet”
  1. Frank says:

    Lovely column.

    Unfortunately, the Alaska electorate that overturned the oleaginous House majority did not prevail in the Senate, returning bizarre creatures such as Coghill and Geissel to that body, rather than choosing vastly superior candidates, leaving us with the equivalent of banana republic governance. One hopes there will be sufficient recognition of our predicament in November 2018 to address reality, but I wouldn’t bet on it. After all, despite three chaotic weeks, Drumpf voters still believe he will take us to the magic kingdom.

  2. Elizabeth Cook says:

    On last week’s Talk of Alaska, Sen. Kelly pretty well brushed off the reasonably timorous suggestions about other sources of revenue. When the topic came up, he repeatedly had trouble remembering who would be subject to an income tax. He kept on saying it would “harm the private sector”. Funny but I thought that meant businesses, not individual people. What does the word “constituency” mean to Sen. Kelly?

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