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With an issue as volatile as oil-tax reform, it's not surprising it might be coming to a voter referendum.
The state Legislature tried several times in recent years to adjust the rules applying to oil taxes. This most recent session it passed Senate Bill 21, which awaits, and is likely to receive, Gov. Sean Parnell's signature. Parnell believed the Legislature and his office needed to act in response to declining oil production, the source of 90 percent of the state's revenue.
The action created division within the Legislature — no unanimous vote there — and throughout Alaska. Those who opposed SB21 believed it gave too much cash to the oil companies; those who supported it hope it doesn't and instead provides incentives to the oil companies to produce more oil.
Time will tell, but in the meantime, a referendum, which would be on a ballot next year, accomplishes at least three things:
1. It lets Alaskans speak directly on the issue. Each Alaskan who is properly registered will be allowed to cast a vote. Not just politicians or lobbyists; no corporations, just the people. These are people who are engaged and accepting — in some cases demanding — the responsibility to be informed and to vote from that perspective.
2. It gives Alaskans another look at the issue after SB21 is enacted into law. In a year or year and a half when the referendum makes it to an election, voters will have had an opportunity to watch and listen for indications oil companies are advancing toward increased oil production.
3. The oil companies can begin to take steps to increase production. Their action or inaction could decide an eventual election.
But first things first. The "Vote Yes - Repeal the Giveaway" group will have to collect 30,169 signatures of registered Alaskan voters by July 13, 2013 in order to get the referendum on the ballot. The Division of Elections expects to get signature books to the group next week.
Undoubtedly, some of those books will end up in Ketchikan and Metlakatla and on Prince of Wales Island.
Signatures should be forthcoming. It's prudent to take a second look at a critically important question regarding Alaska's finances. As a matter of fact, Alaskans should be, and often are, so inclined on such issues continually. It's our state. It's our oil. It's our future, which is determined by the path to be taken in regard to oil taxes.