Sure enough, Sheffield Nelson and the Arkansas Municipal League reported enough signatures last week to clear the first hurdle for an act that will for the first time in history decently reimburse Arkansans and their descendants for the profiteering from vanishing natural gas resources.
Now, the sponsors will have to withstand a legal attack on the petitions by the gas companies and their surrogate, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, and pick up a few thousand more signatures for insurance. Then they, and the voters, will have to fight off a classic disinformation campaign of the kind that has become the national standard on big policy issues. The campaign against the national health-insurance law in 2010 is the template. If you've got enough money and moxie you can make people believe anything — that the law will destroy jobs, freedom and the American way of life and pile onerous taxes and debt on all of us and our descendants.
That is already the chamber's and gas industry's tack on Nelson's initiated act, which would impose a 7 percent tax on the value of gas produced for the market in Arkansas. The rate would be close to what other states in the region tax gas at the wellhead. Since 2009, Arkansas's rate averages a little over 1.5 percent. Other big gas-producing states levy taxes in different forms and at varying rates; Sarah Palin's Alaska collects a tax of 22.5 percent. The severance tax in Alaska raises more than 77 percent of the state government budget, so Alaskans are almost tax-free. In Texas, the severance tax accounts for 6 percent of the state budget, in Oklahoma 13 percent, in Louisiana 9 percent and New Mexico 19 percent.
What about the Arkansas budget? Severance taxes account for under one half of 1 percent.
Our leaders, including the State Chamber of Commerce, have always loved the sales tax to pay for everything. In fact, that's one reason they want to prevent a fair severance tax on natural gas. Most of the money from the tax would go to fix highways and bridges, city streets and county roads. The chamber and the gas industry want ordinary people, the middle class and the poor, to pay for interstate roads for the shippers and for the damage done to roads in gas exploration.
Here is what you will hear:
• The big companies will take drilling rigs out of Arkansas and it will cost tens of thousands of jobs. Not one rig will move — not because of the little severance tax anyway — and not one job will be lost. Have they moved out of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, Alaska and elsewhere into Arkansas because of our low tax and their high taxes? Never happened.
• You'll pay higher taxes for your heating gas. Not true. The gas goes into interstate pipelines and is marketed nationally. Little of the shale gas stays in Arkansas.
But never mind. They'll have industry-financed studies showing all those horrors to be true.