In tight race, oil tax referendum behind

Supporters of Ballot Measure 1 to repeal the state’s current oil tax law, Senate Bill 21, wave signs on Egan Drive at the Juneau-Douglas Bridge, August 19, 2014. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Supporters of Ballot Measure 1 to repeal the state’s current oil tax law, Senate Bill 21, wave signs on Egan Drive at the Juneau-Douglas Bridge, August 19, 2014. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

With some ballots yet to be counted, a referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature oil tax law is trailing by nearly 7,000 votes.

When the first returns came in, the referendum was up by exactly five votes. The Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway team marched into Anchorage’s Election Central cheering enthusiastically and believing momentum was on their side. But as the night wore on, the numbers began to turn against the ballot measure. The last big update of the night had 48 percent of voters voting yes on the referendum and 52 percent voting no.

Kara Moriarty directs the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and works on the Vote No on 1 campaign. When she called from the No on 1 headquarters, she was optimistic that the anti-referendum lead will hold.

“I mean it’s certainly trending in the direction we were hoping for tonight,” says Moriarty.

At press time, two percent of precincts still hadn’t reported, with most of the polling places located in rural areas. The Division of Elections also needs to count nearly 20,000 absentee and early ballots.

State legislator and referendum supporter Les Gara says that he’d like to see the referendum overcome the gap. But even if it doesn’t, the Anchorage Democrat thinks it’s impressive that the race is close even though the referendum was dramatically out-funded.

“Look, the Alaska public was outspent $15 million to like, one,” says Gara, of the $600,000 the repeal effort raised versus the $15 million spent to defeat the referendum. “If the people can overcome $15 million in misleading ads, they’re heroes.”

The referendum was the most expensive issue race over a ballot measure in the state history. Proposition 1 would get rid of a new taxation policy that caps the tax rate at 35 percent. In its place, the state would revert back to former Gov. Sarah Palin’s system, where the tax rate goes up along with the price per barrel. Supporters of the referendum argue that the new regime gives too much of a tax break on oil production, where referendum opponents argue that that the new law encourages oil production.

The Division of Elections will continue the vote count this morning.

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