Alaska oil tax referendum ignites a neighborly sign war

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The trans-Alaska pipeline. (iStock)
The trans-Alaska pipeline. (iStock)
On top of being the most expensive ballot measure in state history, next week’s referendum on oil taxes may also be one of the most contentious.

The polling shows a tight race, with the state’s voters almost equally divided on the question. Which means that no matter which side you’re on, it’s almost inevitable you’ll have to deal with someone who disagrees.

Denise Roselle and Dan Anderson share a lot as neighbors. He plows her driveway; she lets him park his truck there. Their Spenard ranch homes are nearly identical save the paint jobs. But there’s one area where they’re clearly divided.

“I am voting yes on Proposition One,” referendum supporter Denise Roselle says.

“I am voting no on Proposition One,” Roselle’s neighbor, referendum opponent Dan Anderson says.

Friendly rivalry

The neighbors have been waging a tiny battle of the yard signs. It started when Roselle put one up that said “Repeal the Oil Giveaway.” Anderson responded with a sign supporting the new tax structure, and he propped it up six feet high.

“Yeah, they gave me a shorter sign and I put it on a longer pole to get it above everybody else, I guess,” Anderson says.

So, Roselle raised hers, too, and stuck another ‘Yes on One’ sign to the side of her house. Then they started adding the candidate signs. Anderson was approached by the Mia Costello for Senate campaign, and Roselle put up signs for:

“Clare Ross, and then Matt Claman, and now I have a Begich sign up as well,” she adds.

By now, she thinks people have noticed the escalation.

“We just kind of talked about if our neighbors were laughing at our sign wars out there.”

Alaska’s future

The rivalry is friendly, but Roselle and Anderson see the referendum as a critical fight over Alaska’s future. Crude has brought in more than a hundred billion in state tax dollars since the North Slope fields were developed, but now less oil is being pumped out of them.

Roselle was one of nearly 50,000 voters who signed a petition to get the referendum on the ballot, and she doesn’t think capping the tax rate will stop that decline. As a teacher, she’s worried it will just mean less money for schools.

“Our state constitution says that we are an owner state. And it seems that we are giving away our resources to somebody else, to oil companies,” Roselle says.

Meanwhile, Anderson thinks that lower taxes will encourage industry to find new oil – which could be good for a contractor like him.

“My economy is based on me having a job. And in Alaska, more jobs come out of oil than almost anything,” Anderson says.

Global oil market

Both Roselle and Anderson have spent a lot of time thinking about the question and trying to approach it from good faith. For all their passion, they each acknowledge the global oil market is so unpredictable you can’t be certain how much each tax system will capture in the future, and that how you vote depends on who you trust in a lot of ways.

But even though they feel strongly about referendum, they’re not talking about it with each other too much.

Roselle says that was a conscious decision on her part.

Not all sign wars are so civil. Recently, the Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway campaign has been posting photos on their Facebook page of handmade signs that have been smashed, and they say they have one report of a sign being set on fire. The Vote No on One campaign also says they’ve also had to deal with signs being stolen and vandalized.

-Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Oil and gas consultations in Canada’s eastern Arctic next week, CBC News

Greenland: Statoil awarded exploration licence off Greenland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Oil, Industry and Arctic Sustainability, Deutsche Welle’s Ice-Blog

Russia:  Russia sees Wrangel Island oil and gas potential; Greenpeace eyes an eastern Arctic front, Alaska Dispatch

United States:  Alaska battle heats up as years of oil decline predicted, Alaska Dispatch

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