Local News

Kreiss-Tomkins: Senate oil tax vote ‘a tragedy’

The governor’s oil tax reform bill narrowly passed the Senate yesterday (Wed 3-20-13). Although its trip through the House will likely be smoother, Sitka representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins continues to oppose it.

The freshman Democrat has not changed his opinion of the administration’s proposed oil tax reform since his campaign to win his seat last summer.

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Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins has always considered lowering taxes on oil companies to be a bad idea. But after Wednesday’s senate vote, he’s upped his rhetoric.

“It’s a tragedy.”

Kreiss Tomkins watched the drama unfold from a seat in the senate gallery — for 10 hours, as the Republican majority worked to retain the votes of its more moderate members, while fending off amendments from minority Democrats.

Kreiss-Tomkins says it was important to him to listen to the debate in person.

“Because it’s the most significant vote in the Alaska Legislature in recent history. And it was a bad vote. And it’s a bad bill. And it’s bad policy, and it’s bad for Alaska, and I’m very distressed by it.”

Sitka’s senator Bert Stedman, a Republican, was among those who opposed SB 21. So did Southeast’s other senator, Democrat Dennis Egan of Juneau, who caucuses with the Republican majority.

The bill passed the Senate, thanks in part to a compromise that restored $300-million in the base tax rate. The deal was a concession to Sen. Click Bishop, a moderate Republican from Fairbanks, who cast the 11th vote.

Kreiss-Tomkins believes the bill will sail through the House. It’s also likely that the industry-friendly Resources and Finance committees may reduce or eliminate some of the hard-fought concessions in the senate. He considers this an opportunity.

“Candidly, that’s going to be the last opportunity to kill this bill, when it goes back to the Senate for concurrence — when the Senate has to agree with revisions made by the House. And those revisions, in all likelihood are going to be more friendly to the industry than the Senate version is. And there may be some moderate senators who took a big swallow last night and voted for this oil tax cut, who may not be able to swallow it when it comes back to them.”

As a member of the minority, Kreiss-Tomkins will not have much say in how oil tax reform looks after moving through the House. But he was more optimistic about his ability to influence some other legislation getting a second-wind from the new Republican-led majorities.

“School vouchers and Voter ID, which are controversial bills. If the Bush Caucus holds strong on the Voter ID bill and also on the school voucher bill, both of those bills are dead. As a consequence, there are just not enough votes in the House to pass either bill.”

The Bush Caucus was re-organized this year by representatives primarily from coastal communities. It has 12 votes in the 40-member House.

Locally, Kreiss-Tomkins is aware of the dramatic budget cuts being faced by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium because of federal “sequestration.” The $3.5 million reduction will mean the loss of programs and jobs throughout Southeast Alaska.

Kreiss-Tomkins did not think the legislature would take any emergency measures to intervene in those losses while Congress remained deadlocked.

“The legislature’s already cutting money for behavioral health, tobacco cessation programs, and when we’re already hemorrhaging money for programs that I believe are really important, it’s pretty unlikely that the state would take on any additional obligations.”

Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins represents House District 34 in the Alaska Legislature. The session is scheduled to adjourn on April 14.


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