Revenue officials explain tax credit issue flagged by Walker

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Monday, January 26, 2015 10:40pm
  • News

JUNEAU — State Revenue department officials told lawmakers Monday that the tax credits that were a source of contention in an opinion piece by Gov. Bill Walker are being paid primarily to small explorers or those developing new oil and gas fields in Alaska.

Walker earlier this month said the state stood to pay out about $100 million more in oil and gas production credits than it takes in in production taxes this year and about $400 million more next year. He referenced the 2013 rewrite of Alaska’s oil tax law, saying the overhaul occurred with little consideration given to low prices. Giving away more in tax breaks than the state collects is irresponsible and unsustainable, Walker said.

The department, in its fall revenue forecast, projected that the state would pay $625 million in so-called refundable credits. Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck told the Senate Finance Committee these are credits primarily to explorers or developers that have no tax liability. He said the credits are split pretty evenly between activity on the North Slope and in Cook Inlet.

The North Slope’s major players are not part of the group that would benefit from this category of credits, and they are paying taxes, Hoffbeck said. But production taxes amid low oil prices are forecast to total about $524 million this year, down from about $2.6 billion last fiscal year, according to the department.

Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said the opinion piece seemed to leave the impression that the problem was with the North Slope’s big three companies.

Walker’s spokeswoman has said the governor was sharing facts with Alaskans as he and the administration were learning them and that the piece was not a precursor to any legislation. Walker took office in December.

Hoffbeck said there is no systemic problem with the credits themselves. He said this is a cash-flow issue, driven by low prices.

“Investments in the future, when you don’t have much revenue, are painful. But they’re still investments in the future,” Hoffbeck said.

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