This is the way Senate oil tax debate ends: not with a bang but a whimper

As senators thrashed through a bill in Senate chambers that would give the oil industry billion dollar tax breaks, as they made thinly veiled threats and promises, as the five lonely members of the minority offered 11 losing amendments. As the bill moved towards final passage and the senators gave their long speeches filled with words like crapshoot, giveaway, hyperbolic curve, internal rate of return, capital expenditures, new producer areas, middle earth, and of course, legacy fields.

As what was billed as an “historic” vote, the halls of the Alaska state capitol building were uncharacteristically empty. Only a few lobbyists sat on the various 2nd floor benches that separate the House and Senate chambers, giggling and gossiping mostly.

In other years, during other such historic votes, these halls would be thronged with oil company posse. Lobbyists would be whispering urgently. Notes would be passed back and forth from the halls to the pages to the senators.

And the security guard, Mel Personett, who’s been pacing these floors for ten years, would at the very least have more faces to look at, if not more heated conversations to overhear.

Personett is nothing if not security-trained tightlipped, particularly when I, a reporter or a blogger or whatever I am, tries to get him to spill the goods. On what, neither of us knows, but aside from saying that things are quiet, he’s not taking chances.

One person said that the lack of interest in Juneau might have something to do with the lack of interest across the state.

Indeed, the legislature has been nearly singularly dominated by the discussion since, well, since 1968 when Prudhoe was discovered, but particularly since former Gov. Frank Murkowski began a complete re-write of the state’s oil tax policy in 2005. That debate has stretched through a huge corruption scandal, through Palin drama, through a recalcitrant bi-partisan Senate, through hours and hours of testimony, and now, here we are. Billions of public dollars at stake, a nearly empty capitol building, and a few people on twitter vying for the best sound bites. (Although not normally known for its wit, the Alaska Democratic Party surely won that battle by referring to either Sens. Kevin Meyer or Peter Micciche as Senator “Crapshoot” (R-ConocoPhilips)).

Sen. Bert Stedman said that he too noticed that the halls were quiet. He thought that it was because the vote was in his words, a “done deal.”

Indeed, word was yesterday that Senate President Charlie Huggins had a lock on 11 votes, which was enough to ensure passage. And at about 9 p.m., the tally was 11 to 20. (Read the details of the bill here, and here.) Huggins, who can do more one-armed push-ups than you, runs a tight ship.

After reconsideration on Thursday, the bill is expected to be read across the House floor on Friday morning, where it should find a more sympathetic audience, that is, if egos can be kept in check. Already the bill is already scheduled for its first hearing in House Resources Committee Friday afternoon. Stay tuned.

For now contact Amanda Coyne at


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