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Public information request turns up heat on Murkowski administration


April 06, 2006

Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage) on Wednesday delivered a public records request to Gov. Frank Murkowski, urging the administration to finally release the long-touted but as yet unseen natural gas pipeline contract.



Several legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration with the administration's refusal to release the pipeline contract.  The frustration springs from the strong suggestions from Murkowski and others that the contract is linked to the historic oil tax reform legislation now being debated in House and Senate committees.
The governor announced that a pipeline agreement had been reached when he delivered his oil tax reform (PPT) bills to the Legislature in late February. Since that time, Murkowski has vacillated on the degree of linkage between the tax reform and the gas pipeline contract. The governor has also been ambiguous about whether or not the contract is actually complete. He has suggested that should the Legislature change the 20/20 tax to credit formula in his bill, the major producers would pull out of the gasline contract. At the same time, Murkowski has said he would release the contract to the Legislature only after the PPT vote is completed. He has claimed a confidentiality clause in the Stranded Gas Act prevents the administration from releasing the contract.
"The contract itself is not protected by the act," French said. "The Stranded Gas Act protects proprietary information and materials generated in preliminary drafts of the contract.  The contract must be released eventually, so it can't possibly contain proprietary information. The governor has made it very clear that the contract is linked to the oil tax, so he's asking the Legislature secure a fair deal for Alaskans with one hand tied behind our backs. He said the contract is complete, and therefore it belongs to the Alaskan people. It's time to stop playing 'blind man's bluff.  We need to see the contract now."
French requested a copy of the contract from Department of Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus on March 7. Corbus denied the request, but in his own response wrote that the statute protects only those "documents that 'reflect, incorporate or analyze' information relevant to the development of the position or strategy of the state with respect to a SGDA contract provision." French contends that, based upon that definition, once any portion of the contract is complete it becomes a public record, and it must be disclosed.

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