Saturday, May 16, 2015

Educators misled by the NEA and the Partnership for Public Education

Kara Moriarty

Alaskans deserve facts on all major public policy issues. Sadly, misrepresentations about Alaska’s oil and gas tax credits threaten to turn a situation that requires a thoughtful and fact-based approach into a political skirmish complete with slogans and accusations.

It is impossible for anyone to track every issue, so we tend to rely on media outlets, unions, trade groups, etc., to provide us accurate information that enables us to learn about and take positions on public policies. Unfortunately, in this case, the union representing teachers has let its members down by continuing to spread inaccurate information for the last month -- even after hearing the facts.

The NEA commissioned a poll this spring, in conjunction with the members of the Partnership for Public Education, which include: AFL-CIO; Alaska PTA; Anchorage Polynesian Lions Club; Citizens for the Advancement of Alaska’s Children; NAACP; Polynesian Association of Alaska; and School Business Partnerships. One of the questions asked Alaskans how they felt about oil tax credits, and if the Legislature should revisit oil taxation. Fair question. However, the question as worded was blatantly incorrect. This could have been an honest mistake, but professional standards dictate that when an error is identified, the responsible party is obligated to correct it. To date, the NEA and the Partnership for Public Education refuse to take ownership of their error, which is especially regrettable when you consider this is the union that represents teachers who, more than any other professional, strive for truth in information as they educate the next generation of Alaskans.

More than a month ago, I respectfully presented the correct information from the Department of Revenue to the NEA and the PTA. I asked that they provide the facts to those that received the poll and put a disclaimer on the public results. Several emails and many weeks later, I have been ignored and nothing has been done. The pollster for this organization, Hays Research Group, is also unwilling to correct the record despite what appears to be a clear violation of the ethical guidelines outlined by that profession’s trade organization. As the head of a professional association whose mission is to provide Alaskans with factual, third-party referenced information, this kind of casual attitude toward the truth is unsettling. My professional training is in education; I used to be an elementary school teacher, and an NEA member, and I would be horrified to know my union was consciously choosing to misrepresent an issue that was proven to be false.

The inaccurate statement contained within the poll question posed to Alaskans read like this:

"The state revised its oil tax law in 2013, and Alaskans voted by a narrow margin in August not to repeal the new tax system. At current oil prices, the state gives out more in oil tax credits to the oil industry than it receives in revenue from the oil industry. Would you support the Legislature revisiting the issue of oil credits and taxes in light of the current deficit?"

Who wouldn’t respond with a “yes” to this question as worded? The trouble is, it’s just flat wrong.

In fact, its entire premise is wrong. It is an indisputable fact that the State of Alaska receives billions more in revenues than it pays out to oil companies when you look at all oil revenue sources: royalties (the state’s share as an owner), production taxes, income taxes, property taxes and other fees paid to the state.

Alaskans deserve an honest conversation based on facts as we tackle our fiscal challenges, not half-truths or political spin. No one is served when individuals or organizations throw out inflammatory accusations that are clearly either false or taken out of broader context.

The NEA has every right -- and even the responsibility -- to lobby rigorously for policies that benefit public education and teachers. But it should do so in a way that informs Alaskans with accurate information, not misleads them by spreading false information.

My organization has set up a special page on our website for readers who want more information on oil revenues and tax credits from objective, third-party sources. Visit www.aoga.org and learn about it for yourself.

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Kara Moriarty is executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to foster the long-term viability of the oil and gas industry in Alaska.