Opponents of proposed oil tax cut rally on capitol steps, around the state

Anchorage Democratic Senators Bill Wielechowski, Berta Gardner and Hollis French (left to right) get ready to tear up a giant check from the State of Alaska to oil companies. The amount of the check is the estimated amount of Governor Sean Parnell's proposed oil tax cut, which the lawmakers call "a giveaway." Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) breaks through the giant check. Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

The Backbone rally in Juneau against a proposed oil tax cut attracted nearly 500 protesters. Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

The rally spilled across the street from the capitol building steps. Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

A sign referencing Governor Sean Parnell's Choose Respect campaign to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. Parnell supports the oil tax overhaul. Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

A protester poses for a Gavel Alaska camera. Photo by Justin Heard/KTOO.

About 500 people took to the capitol building steps in Juneau Thursday for one of several rallies statewide against Governor Sean Parnell’s plan to cut state oil taxes.

Anchorage Democrat Johnny Ellis, the Senate Minority Leader, led the crowd in tearing up symbolic checks from the State of Alaska to oil giants ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon. The amount of the checks – $5.5 billion – is the estimated amount of the proposed tax cut, which opponents call “a giveaway.”

Anchorage Democratic Senator Hollis French said the governor’s previous oil tax cut proposals didn’t pass muster with a bipartisan Senate majority. This version, French noted, barely passed a Republican led Senate on an 11 to 9 vote.

“Now you have to stand up, and you have to make your voices heard, and you have to let the governor on the third floor know this is a bad idea! Do you like this idea?” French asked.

“Hell no!” the crowd shouted back.

The governor and other proponents of cutting taxes say the state needs to do something to stimulate oil production, which has been declining since the late 1980s.

But one of the loudest cheers of the rally went to Madeline Handley, a student at Juneau Douglas High School, who said the proposed tax cut threatens her future.

“If you don’t get the best price you can for our oil and continue to save for the future, when my friends and I graduate from college in 2020 there will be no savings and less oil,” said Handley. “So, our oil and our savings will be almost gone. There will be no jobs for my friends and I here. This is our future, please don’t give it away.”

Rallies were held across the state, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, and Sitka among other locations. They were organized by the nonpartisan group, Backbone, which formed in 1999 to fight the proposed merger of ARCO and BP. It restarted last year to fight Governor Parnell’s proposed oil tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the tax cut legislation – Senate Bill 21 – cleared the House Resources Committee in an early morning vote Thursday.

The committee amended the bill to include a 33 percent base tax rate. That’s higher than the 25 percent in the governor’s original bill, but lower than the 35 percent in the version that passed the Senate last month.

The change might be significant, because it’s thought that raising the base tax to 35 percent got Fairbanks Republican Senator Click Bishop to support the bill. Without his vote it would have failed in the Senate.