Alleged canvasser misrepresents severance tax petition | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 18, 2012

Alleged canvasser misrepresents severance tax petition

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Credit where due. The $1.5 million spent by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce to oppose the gas severance tax increase has a trophy — someone nabbed a purported canvasser for the tax proposal saying it would lower the "price of gas."

A camera is running while another man asks a question that prompts the erroneous answer. The severance tax increase has nothing to do with the price of gas in Arkansas, particularly if you take it in the vernacular to refer to the cost of gasoline. Indeed, I've heard reports (but have no film to prove it) from proponents of the severance tax increase who've said those trying to discourage people from signing the petition have claimed erroneously that a severance tax increase would raise the cost of gasoline.

No matter. A purported canvasser has been caught uttering the phrase lower the price of gas and gets prompted to say it again after the canvasser seems to suggest if a potential signer has a problem on the gas issue, he could sign one on medical mariajuana. (I misinterpreted the film originally. The line IS spoken by the person on screen, at prompting from someone off-screen.)

It's good material for the gas companies financing the anti-tax campaign.

To be clear: The severance tax won't lower the price of gasoline or gas in Arkansas. It won't raise it either for consumers. It will raise the tax rate on producers, who pass the cost along to customers in a nationally pooled price little affected by variations in individual state tax rates. Most of the natural gas found in Arkansas is sold out of state.

I'd bet the canvasser, if legitimate, is a paid hand, because he refers to other petitions he's carrying. Paid canvassers are paid by the signature and the more they can get signed, the better, so they often carry several. The paid canvassers get, at best, a rudimentary rundown on issues. Some of them, demonstrably in this case, say things that aren't true, whether intentionally or not.

I am curious how the film was made. Was it chance? Or was it, too, part of the paid operation of the largely stealth operation running the anti-tax campaign, which posted the video on YouTube and broadcast about it? I've inquired.

Sheffield Nelson, who's leading the severance tax drive, said that, without his being able to see the canvasser, it's impossible to say if it's a real canvasser working for his group, though they have hired firms who hire canvassers. "Like [state Chamber head] Randy Zook said when we said they were pressuring our canvassers, 'Prove it.'" Nelson said classes were held for canvassers and they were equipped with short lists of talking points. "But, in theory, you could have somebody doing something like that. You could get a marginal person. Or they could bring in a friend. I don't know what to do about that."

Nelson said his group would have more than enough signatures to meet the 63,000 threshold July 6, breathing room if some are disqualified. The anti-tax group has branded this new video as "petition fraud." Petitions merely qualify a measure for the ballot. Past petitions have been challenged for legitimacy of signatures, but I can't offhand recall a challenge mounted because signers might have been misinformed by gatherers on the content of a proposal. Hard to imagine a court getting into this, but I think you can expect a wide-ranging court challenge if Nelson's group does get its signatures. And millions more in spending by the gas companies.

Nelson also asked: "Who's done the biggest disservice to the state? A misinformed canvasser? Or the president of the Arkansas State Chamber Commerce who's said erroneoulsy for months that gas companies would leave the state if this tax passes?"

UPDATE: Comment from anti-tax group follows:

From Lucas Hargraves of Arkansans for Jobs and Affordable Energy:

We have people in the field monitoring the signature gathering process. The man you see on camera was here in Little Rock carrying petitions for the severance tax measure. As you can hear, when asked what the natural gas measure did, the petitioner said it would “lower the price of gas in Arkansas.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. People have witnessed several other petitioners make similar misrepresentations about the severance tax proposal and what it would do.

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