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It’s time for Alaskans to be responsible owners

Posted: June 18, 2014 - 4:13pm

Why I am against SB 21 and believe we need to repeal the “giveaway” this August 19th:

I am from and therefore of Alaska. What I know about life, the world and living has been acquired while existing almost exclusively in Alaska. In other words, Alaska has shaped me and as I grow into stages of adulthood I understand the importance of helping, in my small way, shape Alaska, in return. 

I was born after oil had been discovered on the North Slope and the trans-Alaska pipeline was finished by the time I was 2 years old. I remember receiving my first PFD check and being unclear why. I did not understand, at that point in my life, that Alaska is an owner state and the resources belong to the residents, much less, that a forward thinking governor had insisted that Alaskans invest its share of the oil wealth into an investment account. 

 For most of my life the subject of oil and gas development in Alaska has intimidated me. A convoluted subject, best left to lawyers, politicians, Native corporations and NGOs. I have never found my way into this conversation and do not have the proper tools to wield any authority on the convoluted topics associated therein. 

However, Senate Bill 21, the oil tax “giveaway,” as it’s been called, is something I have tried to wrap my mind around. 

Many oil producing nations tax private developers at a high rate and invest that wealth into rainy day funds, as well as pay capital expenses. Norway, for example deposits 100 percent of its oil and gas revenue into a sovereign wealth fund and withdraws from it, to pay for public services. Alaska by comparison, seems to fly by the seat of its pants and our best ideas for increased revenue is more leases and more development — reducing tax rates in a desperate attempt to curry more interest. 

 With no strings attached, for the oil developers to produce, SB 21 can only be seen as what it is — a giveaway, to the richest corporations in the history of the world. 

Lost within the dialogue of oil taxes, investment, owner state verses owned state, TV ads and rankling discourse, is the subject of climate change, it’s effects on Alaska and our role as a contributor. 

As sea level rises, many Alaskan communities will need to be moved. The estimated cost per person to be relocated is $7 million. Climate change will soon become a very expensive problem in Alaska and we can barely afford to pay our teachers or provide basic services under the current oil tax model. 

 Alaska’s history is one of boom and bust. First the fur trade, then gold and now oil and gas and the glimmering hint of renewed mineral development. Our nonrenewable resources need to be reconsidered from a new vantage. Selling them off at a low rate to encourage more development is not a viable or sustainable solution. 

 There are many reasons to repeal SB 21 and I have only scratched the surface of my feelings on the subject. It is very important that Alaskans consider what will happen in the very near future if this tax structure is allowed to remain; loss of revenue for education, roads and basic public infrastructure, income tax, and plundering the PFD, are all very plausible if SB 21 is not repealed. 

Remember, we own the resources and we are the government. It’s time to be the responsible owners our constitutional framers intended us to be.

Bjørn Olson is a life-long Alaskan and wilderness adventurer residing in Homer. Beyond the simple pleasure of exploring by bike, he writes that his goal is to see and photo document as much of Alaska as possible. 

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