JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell is taking his case for lower oil taxes to the public as he tries to sway Senate leaders now seemingly unconvinced that his plan is in Alaska's best interest.
Parnell told the Juneau Rotary Club on Tuesday that Alaskans have seen what the status quo looks like and he said it looks like an empty pipeline.
Parnell has proposed cutting oil taxes and expanding tax credits as a way to boost now-declining production. A version of his plan narrowly passed the House last week, but Senate leaders have cast doubt on its prospects on their side before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment April 17.
"All eyes -- all eyes -- now are on the Senate," Parnell said, adding that senators must step up and take bold action. "This is your chance, senators, to make a difference."
During their weekly news conference, leaders of the Senate's bipartisan working group stopped short of declaring the bill dead this year but they made clear it faced long odds.
Sen. Bert Stedman, the Republican co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, repeated his belief that the state doesn't have all the information it needs yet to make a sound policy call. But he said that doesn't mean the issue dies; he said he would expect work on the tax issue to continue during the interim and that lawmakers would pick up the debate when the Legislature reconvenes next January.
"Quite frankly, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of the state of Alaska not to willy-nilly make decisions," Stedman said, adding that the Senate would be deliberative in going through the legislative process.
That's not good enough for Parnell. He's said he would consider failure to act on a bill before adjournment as senators consigning Alaska to a future of declining oil production -- and that he'd have to respond by reining in capital spending to save Alaska's reserves.
On Tuesday, he again refused to say how deeply he might cut the budget. "Until we see how much they're going to try to spend, and how little they want to do on taxes and (growing) our economy," he said, "I can't really give an answer to that."
Parnell said he remains optimistic a bill of some sort can pass. He and Republican House members, basically responsible for the bill's passage on that side, have been working to drum up public pressure on the Senate.
Parnell said he's also been talking with senators in the bipartisan majority "who want to see a solution, who want to see economic growth." He singled out Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire as one such lawmaker.
Whether she can help broker a compromise remains to be seen. McGuire has signed on as a sponsor of a bill by fellow Republican Tom Wagoner that would provide tax credits for new production. But the bill doesn't tinker with the tax structure, something that McGuire believes needs to be addressed. Changes to the tax scheme are key in Parnell's bill.
Stedman said it's "dangerous" for the state to continuously change its tax structure; he said he's more concerned about getting it right than changing it this year, and then next.
Alaska has made multiple changes to its tax system over the last few years. In January, the Department of Revenue released a report saying it could not say whether the current tax was helping or hurting industry because of that.
Senate President Gary Stevens said he did not believe Parnell's bill had the votes to get out of the resources committee.
But Parnell said he wanted to see the full Senate get a chance to vote on it.
"Let's bring it to the floor for a vote," he said, "and we'll see where the votes lie."