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Was Alaska's governor deceptive in oil tax bill remarks? State senators think so.

Alex DeMarban
Stephen Nowers photo

UPDATED: In an unusual action alert sent as an email on Monday, Gov. Sean Parnell is rallying Alaskans to speak out against a proposed oil tax bill that he called a "tax increase," though his Department of Revenue commissioner says the bill would lead to reduced taxes.

Bryan Butcher, Department of Revenue commissioner, in an interview Tuesday with Alaska Dispatch said that information the governor was using in his email was outdated. The original version of Senate Bill 192, introduced three weeks ago as a starting point to be amended, would have increased taxes on oil companies.

But on Friday, three days before the governor's action alert was issued, the bill was amended. The bill's current language would reduce taxes by about $250 million annually in the beginning and about $200 million in following years, he said. 

Butcher told the Dispatch he'd call the governor's office and make sure they have updated information, though the Anchorage Daily News published a lead story about the tax increase in the Senate bill on Saturday headlined, “Bill cuts oil taxes less than Parnell wants."

Even with the new information, Parnell doesn't seem inclinded to admit a mistake or even to address the confusion. In two emails asking why the governor isn't correcting his public statement, his spokesperson didn't answer the question. Instead, she simply emailed back a portion from the action alert about the Senate's bill offering "no hope for increased private investment." 

Responding to a reporter's question today during a Senate press conference, Democratic Sen. Joe Paskvan said the governor's action alert misleads the public. Republican Senate President Gary Stevens also took issue with Parnell's claim. He called the statement "purely desceptive." 

It "never was an intention, no one’s intention in the Senate, ever, to have a tax increase. So, I hope we can put that issue to bed. It is purely deceptive to say that we are trying to increase taxes. That’s not been the case," he said. 

Stevens also talked about the other "deceptions and confusions" surrounding the oil tax debate, including that the pipeline was going to be dismantled in as soon as ten years. "I hope we can not consider those again, because they simply are not true," he said. 

The confusing email from the governor comes as live and phoned-in public testimony is set to begin on Senate Bill 192 in the Senate Resources Committee Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Senate Bill 192 is seen as a more modest alternative to a languishing tax-cut supported by the governor.

Parnell's Action Alert issued on Monday urges residents to oppose Senate Bill 192, saying it will do nothing to spur new oilfield investment and increase the amount of crude shipped through the trans-Alaska pipeline, the state's main economic artery.

Parnell, formerly the director of government relations for ConocoPhillips, supports House Bill 110, which would cut taxes on that and other oil companies by $2 billion a year. The bill passed the House last year and went nowhere this year, after Stevens said the rollback was off the table.

"After being passed by the House last year, HB 110 languished in the Alaska Senate, without any public input. About a year passed before the Senate offered its own bill, SB 192, a tax increase," Parnell wrote in the email alert.

But Butcher also told the Senate Resources Committee on Monday that the new bill would reduce taxes, according to an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The governor's advocacy has sparked opposition from the the Alaska Public Employees Association. The group's website calls House Bill 110 a no-strings-attached giveaway.

"It’s very unusual for a sitting Governor to demand the public weigh in against a piece of legislation at this point in the process, which has just begun as at least 18 amendments to this bill are being considered," said the group.

People wishing to testify at the hearing can visit their Legislative Information Office or call the office of Paskvan, co-chair of the committee before 5 p.m. on Tuesday or Wednesday. His number is 877-665-3709.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com