Oil tax advocates spell out their case against referendum

A handful of leading advocates for the new oil tax regime made the case for keeping the law to a friendly audience on Wednesday.

The forum was hosted by the Anchorage Younger Republicans, and panelists included economist Scott Goldsmith and State Sen. Cathy Giessel. They argued that if voters repealed new tax law in August, the oil companies could abandon development of a natural gas pipeline. They also credited the law, which caps the production tax at 35 percent, for adding more drill rigs to the North Slope.

The event wasn’t a debate, and the invited panelists all spoke against returning to a system where the tax rate increases along with the price of oil. The 60-person audience also included plenty of people who had already made their minds up on the issue. Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro moderated the event, and many of the questions he took from the floor expressed support for the tax law.

“Uh, ‘With this much data seemingly in favor of SB21, how could anyone disagree?’” Halcro read from a notecard. “Not a loaded question …”

Proponents of the referendum were not invited to speak, but they were allowed to rent a table outside the forum. Ray Metcalfe, who served in the Legislature in the 1980s, was on his own manning the booth, offering bumper stickers to a crowd that seemed less than eager to take them.

“How are you going to convert anybody if you don’t go into the lion’s den?” asked Metcalfe.

Metcalfe thinks he persuaded two of the attendees to vote for the referendum by showing them that other oil-producing nations tax at a higher rate than Alaska.

The referendum will appear on the August 19 primary ballot.

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