Favorite

Sheffield’s odyssey 

Sheffield Nelson's 35-year political odyssey brought him under the flags of Orval Faubus, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee and George W. Bush, in approximately that order, so whatever your flavor there has been at some point a good Sheffield Nelson.

The good Nelson — the selfless and visionary one — is back and if we are lucky he will finally see one of his promising impulses to fruition. Nelson is going to try to put a gas severance tax initiative on the 2008 Arkansas ballot.

The timing could not be better. The severance tax initiative would be a perfect counterpoise to the state lottery amendment, which almost certainly will be on the ballot. Both would dedicate their revenues to higher education — scholarships and technical education one would hope — but the severance tax would do it so much more generously and surely and without the countervailing harm of a lottery.

The state government would not be in the position of running a numbers racket, transferring our meager wealth from the poor to the better off or exporting our capital (roughly a nickel of every $1 lottery ticket) to the international oligopoly of Gtech Holdings and Scientific Games Corp., all of which characterize a state-run lottery, even the relatively clean proposition crafted by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Nelson's proposition would bring $100 million a year or so into the state treasury earmarked for higher education. Little of it would come from the poor and most of it from outside Arkansas — the big exploration companies or, if they pass the tax on to customers, users in the Ohio River Valley and points north and east.

How can you beat a deal like that?

Through heavy taxes on natural gas, coal and oil levied by other states from Louisiana to Wyoming, we have been subsidizing the education of children in other states for 50 years. We would finally start getting some of it back for our own kids.

More than any state of the old South, Arkansas has been a colony of the nation, exporting our resources far more cheaply than other states and paying a premium for what we get in return, and this often came on the willful connivance of our own leaders. There is no better example than the invisible severance tax on one of our most abundant resources, natural gas. We ask the drilling companies to pay three-tenths of a penny for a thousand cubic feet, a nearly incalculable fraction of what any other state levies.

Nelson's proposal would levy a tax at about the average of the gas-producing states around us. That would be the 7 percent of the market wellhead price collected in Oklahoma. Texas is higher, 7.5 percent.

No one raises a rational argument against it. A couple of Republicans on the Joint Revenue and Taxation Committee said it's not fair to compare our infinitesimal tax to the big severance taxes of places like Texas because we make companies pay corporate income taxes and Texas doesn't. That is baloney. Texas collects a corporate franchise tax based on a company's capital and its federal net taxable income. The burden almost matches the Arkansas income tax, and under Texas' reformed tax code, enacted last year and dubbed the biggest tax increase in Texas history, the corporate tax burden will far exceed Arkansas's income tax. It will take effect Jan. 1. So that argument is a nullity. Oklahoma and Louisiana, of course, have corporate income taxes that effectively exceed Arkansas's.

Then there is the point of state Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow, who is the reason that it is pointless to seek a remedy in the legislature. Johnson says Arkansas would send a terrible message to the country if it made the big exploration companies give something back to the public trust for profiting so handsomely from an ancient resource that will never be replenished.

It will take lots of money and political leverage to get the proposition on the ballot and counter the money spent to defeat it. Sheffield Nelson is a problematical political quantity. His identification with it will spur some old enmities from his two races for governor, his party-switching and his alliance with Huckabee and Bush. But Nelson is irreproachable on this issue. Back in the early '80s, when he was president of Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co., he broke with everyone in the industry and declared it a disgrace that Arkansas did not collect an effective severance tax on gas. He worked for its enactment in 1983, testifying before legislative committees, when Gov. Bill Clinton made it a part of his education program but quietly let it die rather than cross the big gas interests. Maybe Gov. Beebe, who as a state senator voted for the bill then, will join him.

If he still has any, Nelson will not advance his political ambitions, especially in the Republican Party, by raising the extraction tax on gas, but he would earn the gratitude of generations of children.

Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Glass houses

    Having gotten a deep security briefing and probably a confidential glimpse of our own vast cyberspying operation, Donald Trump is no longer pretty sure that the Kremlin didn't hack Democratic computers or employ other tactics to help his election.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • ACA and the GOP

    Congress and the new president in a matter of weeks will repeal big parts of the Affordable Care Act, at least nominally, but what will follow that wondrous event will not be the contentment that Republicans have long promised, but even more political tumult.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

More by Fritz Brantley

  • Words, Dec. 20

    Introducing an old movie on the old movie channel the other night, the host told an old story. The story is untrue, although I suppose the host, semi-old, believed it.
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • He talks, and talks, the talk

    A fellow posted an old newspaper article on his blog about a Mike Huckabee speech to a religious group in 1998. A friend faxed the article to me, then called to ask if I’d yet read it, which I had.
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • Going whole hog

    A Q&A with irreverent Arkansas-raised comedian Matt Besser
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Religion as excuse upends Constitution

    Tirades over religious liberty since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide have awakened the ghost of James Madison, the author of the constitutional doctrine on the matter, and it isn't happy that his effort to protect religious inquiry in America is being corrupted.
    • Jul 9, 2015
  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Glass houses

    Having gotten a deep security briefing and probably a confidential glimpse of our own vast cyberspying operation, Donald Trump is no longer pretty sure that the Kremlin didn't hack Democratic computers or employ other tactics to help his election.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • ACA and the GOP

    Congress and the new president in a matter of weeks will repeal big parts of the Affordable Care Act, at least nominally, but what will follow that wondrous event will not be the contentment that Republicans have long promised, but even more political tumult.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Good one, Al. Hell hath no fury, and all that happy horse-shit. I hope Gene…

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Make that "old hack."

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Oh dear - It is me, E.E.W - I'll confess - but not so much…

    • on January 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation