Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
The muck-raking writer Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
He wrote that after running for governor in 1934. It would seem the business of politics was even more messy than the meat packing industry he exposed.
I’d go a bit further than Sinclair. It’s difficult for someone to continue getting a salary if he does understand some things and still acts on them.
It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll give you the skinny. Most of us are familiar with the little green postcard that comes in the mail with property tax assessments. The companies that own the pipeline stretching from top to bottom of this great state are no different. They pay borough taxes to the North Slope, Fairbanks and Valdez, as well as to the state of Alaska.
To help figure out the value of that pipeline, there’s a volunteer board made up of gubernatorial appointees. It’s called the State Assessment Review Board (SARB). Oh, I’m sure folks who volunteer for this position are loads of fun at parties, but I can’t imagine trying to figure out the assessed value of the pipeline. Math boggles me at times, and the industry pressure cooker would be enough to can salmon tight enough to last until the Rapture.
One such man stepped into the cooker during Murkowski’s last year in office (a year that seemed particularly long for some reason). Let’s just call him Marty McGee, because that’s his name. By all accounts that aren’t the governor’s, Mr. McGee is the most competent person to lead Alaska’s oil property assessment.
Sorry, I get ahead of myself. The pipeline folks wanted to fill in the boxes for their own little green postcard. They said the pipeline was worth $850 million. In 2006, the Department of Revenue said the pipeline was worth $3.6 billion. The SARB said it was worth $4.3 billion. The TAPS owners went to court.
This brings us up to 2010, when a Superior Court looked at the evidence and said, you’re all wrong, the pipeline is worth $9.98 billion.
In fact, the court said there is so much valuable oil left on the North Slope that if there were no oil pipeline, the oil companies would spend tens of billions to build one.
Surprise! Pachow! That means millions more in duly owed taxes for municipalities, boroughs and the state. Relief for property owners? God willing and the creek don’t rise.
Hold the phone, cowboy.
Marty McGee was “fired” from the board by the Parnell administration. According to McGee, Gov. Parnell is trying to stack the board with oil company people, to keep the assessments low so the companies will pay less and Alaskans will get the shaft — once again.
The board, according to the state, meets once a year for a two- to three-day “meeting/hearing.” Members get standard travel and per diem. Not exactly a position that jumps you into a higher tax bracket.
Who did Parnell replace McGee with? Two oil company advocates, one of them from Salinas, Calif. Nothing like having a career oil man from another state to protect the interests of Alaskans. Who would agree to this position unless . . . well, think about it.
McGee knew the taxes paid on TAPS were low, although even he way underestimated them. The Parnell administration made up some cockamamie story about a “conflict of interest” because someone had been paid $2,100 for advisory work on another issue involving the gas company Enstar.
I was shocked to discover that “conflicts of interest” were ever a concern in this administration.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski has introduced a bill regarding such things. Alaska is late to join other states that prohibit lawmakers from voting on bills they have a clear conflict on. When voting on issues that would benefit their bosses, oil company senators just “declare” a conflict, have it “excused” and vote anyway.
Last year, SB21, the governor’s oil tax giveaway bill, was passed with deciding votes from such senators.
I’m not sure Sen. Peter Micciche appreciates the irony of his protest against a Wielechowski bill trying to stop the practice. Micciche called it a “very expensive waste of taxpayer time and money.” I guess if you aren’t building a funnel to pour money on the oil companies, Mr. Micciche thinks you’re wasting your time. How is it a waste of time to keep trying to clean up the system that incubated the Corrupt Bastard’s Club?
When Micciche first ran for office, he said he worked for ConocoPhillips running the LNG plant in Nikiski and making between $100,000 and $200,000. Two years later, he lists the same job at the now “mothballed” plant, working three-quarters time and making between $200,000 and $500,000. Anyone else have a job where they work 25 percent less for a business that has been “mothballed” and doubled their salary?
If the governor will fire a state assessor trying to administer the law as the Alaska Supreme Court sees it over a $2,100 conflict of interest, when billions of dollars are at stake, then surely he will back SB 172 and SCR 15 to bring Alaska into line with most other states by not letting legislators vote on bills where they have a substantial personal financial stake, or their employers’ have one, or their spouses have one.
Things really haven’t changed much since Mr. Sinclair observed, “One of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption.”
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.