Dunleavy administration takes egregious step to interfere with oil tax initiative

Backers of the Fair Share oil tax initiative have received 500 petition booklets, ready for distribution across Alaska. Vic Fischer, the last surviving author of the Alaska Constitution, put his signature down first.

More than 28,500 additional signatures are needed in the next three months to get the measure to a vote in 2020. Check out the website for volunteer information.

I'm appalled at what the Dunleavy administration has done to distort the voter summary it included with the petitions. It's worse than I had expected.

There’s no secret about what happened here. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson want this measure defeated and have taken an egregious step to interfere with the initiative process.

The voter summary prepared by the state is supposed to be true and impartial. The Dunleavy hit on the oil tax initiative is neither.

For starters, the initiative clearly states that the new tax would only apply to oil fields with an annual average daily production of more than 40,000 barrels a day in the last calendar year and a track record of having produced 400 million barrels over the life of the oil field.

This is designed to limit the tax to the biggest, most profitable and oldest North Slope oil fields—Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk and Alpine, the only three that have surpassed those numbers.

The initiative says the tax provisions apply to fields “that have produced in excess of 40,000 barrels per day of oil in the previous calendar year and in excess of 400,000,000 barrels of total cumulative oil production. For other oil production, the tax shall be unchanged by this act.”

There is no room for argument or a misunderstanding about that two-step qualification. An honest summary from the state would confirm that.

But the attorney general claims that the language doesn’t mean what anyone who understands English can see that it means.

Clarkson claims the language could mean that the tax might apply to oil fields that have produced more than 40,000 barrels in the last calendar year or to fields that have produced more than 400 million barrels over time.

To Clarkson, the word “and” means “and/or.”

He said as much in the document that became the basis of the dishonest voter summary attached to the petition. The summary says, “It is unclear whether the area has to meet both the 40,000 and 400,000 million thresholds or just one of them.”

There are two problems with the sentence. First, the initiative language is as clear as can be. Both the 40,000 and the 400 million thresholds have to be met. If the sponsors meant that one or the other would suffice, they would have used the word “or.”

Second, “400,000 million” is not 400 million. It is 400 billion. (I don’t know what got into me when I said this was a 3.6-billion-barrel mistake. A reader pointed out, correctly, that it is a 399.6 billion mistake, which is a little worse.)

Armed with Clarkson’s false statements about where the tax would apply, the oil industry will soon be saying that the initiative could force higher taxes on small oil fields on the North Slope, such as the projects Oil Search is promoting.

The oil industry will credit that statement to Clarkson or the Dunleavy administration.

There are other dishonest elements in the voter summary that I wrote about here.

I suspect the courts will force the state to provide an honest voter summary. I also suspect that Clarkson is fully capable of interpreting a simple sentence in English or deliberately misinterpreting one because it suits his political purposes.

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