Those who want state government to operate like a business should wholeheartedly support proposals to raise the shamefully low severance tax on natural gas. Any sound businessman would choose $50 million in revenue over $600,000 in revenue. Even a shaky businessman could probably do the math.
For that matter, everybody — except perhaps the gas companies — should be for a higher severance tax. Scarcely large enough to be called a nuisance, the present tax brings in about $600,000 a year. Gov. Mike Beebe wants to make the Arkansas tax roughly equal to what Texas and Oklahoma levy. That, he says, would produce at least $50 million in revenue, and maybe as much as $100 million. Beebe wants to spend the new money on Arkansas's highways, always in need improvement.
People have talked about raising the severance tax for years, but efforts to do so have been blocked by puissant special interests and a quirky Arkansas Constitution, with its requirement of a three-fourths legislative majority. The constitutional requirement is still there, and the special interests still have legislative friends, notably Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow, who will hold the Senate's top leadership position in the next session. But if anybody knows how to get around such obstacles it's Beebe, a skillful negotiator who was a longtime Senate leader himself.
After all this time, Arkansas is suddenly overrun with severance tax reformers. Sheffield Nelson, the former gas company executive and gubernatorial candidate, is promoting an initiated act that would put a severance-tax increase before the voters. Nelson may have reasons of his own, but he's on the right side here. Heaven knows he's been on the wrong side often enough.
Stop the dogfights
Speaking of special interests blocking progressive legislation, agribusiness groups like the Poultry Federation and the Farm Bureau have prevented the passage of strong laws against animal cruelty. Arkansas is one of seven states where cruelty to animals is only a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. But even weak laws can help, if determined people use them. A six-month dogfighting investigation by the Saline County sheriff's office, the Humane Society of the United States, and other agencies has resulted in arrests and the seizure of 36 dogs. The HSUS says it's contributing $5,000 to house the dogs, and offering an additional $5,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and prosecution of people involved in dogfighting.
Dogfighting is organized cruelty calling itself sport. Those who put dogfighters out of business, and behind bars if possible, make the world a better place.