- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The lieutenant governor’s office is not planning public hearings on a referendum to repeal Alaska’s new oil tax because such measures do not fall under a law requiring hearings for ballot initiatives, his spokeswoman said.

Some lawmakers have talked about possible legislation to include referenda under the law involving initiatives, but “at this point, that is not part of our obligation,” Michelle Toohey, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, said in an interview last week.

A state law passed in 2010 requires the lieutenant governor or a designee to hold at least two public hearings in each of the state’s four judicial districts on initiatives slated to appear on the ballot.

The hearings must include testimony by a supporter and an opponent. The first hearings under the law were held in 2012 on a ballot measure that would have re-established a coastal management program. The measure failed.

The proposed repeal of the new oil tax law has qualified for the August primary ballot along with at least one initiative that would require legislative approval for a large-scale, metallic sulfide mining operation within the watershed of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve and would almost certainly have bearing on the proposed Pebble Mine project.

The group behind the project, the Pebble Limited Partnership, opposes the initiative, which Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said would essentially politicize the permitting process.

Other proposed initiatives are pending. Supporters of an effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Alaska turned in signatures last week. Backers of an effort to raise the state minimum wage plan to turn in their signatures this week, according to one of the organizers, Ed Flanagan.

The Legislature can pre-empt a qualified initiative by passing a substantially similar measure.

Toohey said $30,000 has been requested for the initiative hearings in next year’s budget. But she said Treadwell’s office is able to use existing funds and does not have to wait until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, to begin holding hearings.

A start date, however, has not yet been set for the hearings. Toohey said the office also was looking at logistics, and whether it was realistic - should all three initiatives qualify - to have hearings on all three issues at the same time.

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