Les Gara (courtesy photo)

Les Gara (courtesy photo)

Opinion: A vote for Ballot Measure 1 is a vote for Alaska

Ballot Measure 1 says we don’t have to live with self-inflicted poverty.

  • Les Gara
  • Saturday, October 10, 2020 11:19pm
  • Opinion

Next year Alaska will finally pass the breaking point. Our deficit will be far greater than the remaining savings to cover it. Our future is grim without the very fair, very needed revenue Ballot Measure 1 will provide.

With almost $20 million that London- and Texas-based oil companies have spent to defeat this measure, they’ve said everything but the truth — that Alaskans will be left holding the bag if they get their way. They understandably want to keep their unjustified oil tax breaks on the three largest, most profitable fields Ballot Measure 1 applies to. But that’s out the desire for corporate welfare, not care for our state, or our ability to protect our fisheries or small communities.

It’s time to address their misleading ads.

First, Alaskans can’t afford to keep giving away unjustified tax breaks to corporate shareholders who don’t care about damaging needed support for our schools, seniors, fisheries, kids and communities. They don’t care that there won’t be enough money either for those who support these core Alaska functions, or those who support larger PFDs. That fight will be academic next year. There won’t be the funds for either. Folks on all sides will be left battling to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic.

Ballot Measure 1 says we don’t have to live with self-inflicted poverty.

Here’s another fact the oil company ads leave out. Alaska’s nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division estimated this summer that next year’s deficit will be between $1 billion and $2.5 billion, depending on whether the PFD is $1,000 or $3,000. We will have a deficit even with no PFD, according to the State’s Spring 2020 revenue forecast.

What about the savings the state has used, in combination with $1 billion in constant budget cuts since 2015, to “balance” the budget? Those cuts have increased class sizes across the state, eliminated over 1,000 teachers and education staff, over 100 university degree and vocational certificate programs, and harmed Alaskans both rural and urban. They threaten our ability to protect our fisheries. Our state construction job budget has been cut by over $400 million, which is the equivalent of roughly 6,000 jobs we need, could have, but don’t.

Without those jobs, fewer people shop at Alaska’s businesses. That in turn has harmed or closed small businesses and the loss of thousands of private sector jobs. Their ads get the job impacts backwards. Voting “no” on 1 will kill more jobs and more businesses.

Here’s another reality.

Before oil companies got the governor and their allies to lower oil taxes in 2014, Alaska had built $17 billion in savings. Those savings are now gone. By this coming legislative session we are projected to have just $500 million left in savings, which can’t cover a $1 billion to $2.5 billion deficit.

What else do the ads say? They shamelessly pretend their campaign is funded by Alaskans. Over 99% of their funds come from British and Texas corporations.

And they mislead by claiming the Alaskans who form the Alaska’s Fair Share Act campaign are “outsiders.” Over 99% of the funds for the Alaska’s Fair Share campaign comes from 700-plus Alaskans. No outsiders direct this campaign or are allowed to influence it. I’ve personally asked the oil industry campaign group to stop running these false ads. They’ve declined.

Their ads ask you to worry about oil company profits. You can sleep soundly there.

ConocoPhillips, an owner of the three massive fields (called “units”) that Ballot Measure 1 applies to, is the one oil company required by federal law to report their Alaska profits. The others refuse.

Their last four annual reports show they made a hefty $5.2 billion in profit in Alaska, and lost $2.45 billion in all other 49 states combined. Alaska is Conoco’s cash cow.

Passage of Ballot Measure 1 will leave the total oil production tax and royalty rates paid in Alaska lower than those charged in Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota and other states.

We should be partners with the oil industry, not junior partners.

I believe in a state that can train workers to strengthen our economy, support small businesses and provide opportunity and dignity for my urban and rural neighbors.

Voting “yes” on 1 is voting “yes” for Alaska.

Les Gara has lived in Alaska with his wife Kelly for 32 years, and was a member of the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003-2019.


• By Les Gara


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