AJOC EDITORIAL: Parish flunks out on oil taxes

  • Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, speaks during a noontime rally Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, outside the Alaska state Capitol in Juneau. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Nobody could blame Rep. Justin Parish for loving the sound of his own voice.

The problem is that everything that comes out of the Juneau Democrat’s mouth regarding oil taxes following his baritone “Madam Chair” reveals a depth of knowledge that is shallower than a contact lens case.

Parish was on full, cringe-worthy display at a couple recent hearings of the House Resources Committee, where co-chair Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, is forcing oil industry representatives to hump to Juneau yet again for more hearings on another oil tax bill that’s going nowhere.

If these hearings are good for anything — other than serving as a constant reminder that the state is on track to see its third straight year of production increases on the North Slope — it is to witness the Democrat-led Majority’s utter cluelessness on policy from definitional basics to more complex financial reporting.

First up was Parish questioning Tax Division Director Ken Alper, whom Democrats have relied upon since taking the House majority in 2016 to help craft their seemingly endless series of oil tax increases.

At the Jan. 26 hearing, Alper had an innocuous PowerPoint slide that noted Tarr’s proposal to raise the gross minimum tax from 4 percent to 7 percent is a 75 percent increase.

Parish, who once wrote that “French is the international language of freedom,” decided to wade into the universal language of math.

“We are contemplating increasing the effective rate by 3 percent,” Parish said. “It’s such a curious quirk of language. Because if we were increasing it from 1 percent to 2 percent, you could say we’re increasing the effective tax rate by 100 percent.”

Alper agreed, “Yes, doubling it.”

“Which just, on the face sounds like we’re going up to an effective tax rate of 101 percent,” Parish said. “Which is positively bizarre. I would ask you in the future not to muddle things by saying we’re increasing the effective tax rate by 75 percent when on the face of it you’d think we’re going from a 4 percent gross tax to a 79 percent tax rate, which is also a plain language reading of what you have here.”

The only thing muddled is Parish’s thinking but the problem is his muddled thinking came along with an instruction to Alper to refrain from using math because it accurately portrays the size of the tax increase Tarr is proposing.

Parish wasn’t done yet, and saved some of his best column material for BP Vice President Lewis Westwick a few days later on Jan. 29.

Just five minutes earlier, Westwick had responded to Rep. George Rauscher, R-Wasilla, who gave him an opportunity to address Parish’s statement at the Jan. 26 hearing that BP earned 74 percent of its global profits in Alaska in 2016.

The original source of that claim is from the Journal itself, when BP reported results for its upstream business of $85 million. The company only made $115 million worldwide that year, leading us to draw the same erroneous conclusion that Parish is still quoting two years later.

In fact, our subsequent reporting based on an email we obtained written by BP Alaska President Janet Weiss corrected the record to reflect BP’s annual report did not break out the results from its midstream business, namely TAPS and its marine tanker business.

“We made a loss of almost $200 million,” Westwick said, which jives with Weiss’ statement of a $184 million loss in her email. “Despite seeing a positive $85 million in the annual report, that’s just a slice of our Alaska business.”

Turns out Parish’s listening skills are about as good as his math skills.

“I wonder, if about 74 percent of BP’s global profits as your documents to your shareholders I presume assert, how can it be said we’re not competitive when we account for, again, about 74 percent of global profits according to your documents and yet only 1 percent of global production,” Parish said. “I really would be interested in knowing.”

Westwick was as pleasant as could be and even graciously took the blame for Parish’s ignorant question.

“As I tried to explain, perhaps not very well,” Westwick said, “the $85 million is just a slice of the Alaska business. It would be akin to taking your best well and saying, ‘this is how I’m going to report my financials.’ The actual entirety of the Alaska business lost money in 2016, which for legal reasons around disclosure, we don’t disclose in the annual report. In 2016, the way we look at the Alaska business, we made a loss of almost $200 million. It would not represent, as you describe, 75 percent of the total group profit.”

Parish does represent, unfortunately, the people of Juneau. Surely they can do better.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]rnal.com.

Updated: 
01/31/2018 - 12:01pm

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