Special Session Increasing Severance Tax Illegal?

 

Seth Blomeley reports in an Arkansas Democrat Gazette article that "Under Amendment 19 to the state constitution, the rate of the severance tax cannot be raised apart from approval by the voters in an election or, in an emergency, by a three-fourths majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate. That would be 27 votes in the Senate, 75 in the House.  So where is the emergency?

 

Oscar Stilley, Arkansas attorney, sent the following to Arkansas Senators:

 

"Right now there is an attempt ongoing to violate Amendment 19 to the Arkansas Constitution, which provides:

 

         None of the rates for property, excise, privilege or

    personal taxes, now levied shall be increased by the General

    Assembly except after the approval of the qualified electors

    voting thereon at an election, or in case of emergency, by

    the votes of three-fourths of the members elected to each

    House of the General Assembly.

    (emphases added)

 

What is the emergency?  What is the claimed or pretended emergency?  How does one put words on paper that remotely suggest that there is an emergency that allows the legislature to act without the vote of the people?"

 

Doesn't this remind all of us of the trickery used in 2005 with Governor Huckabee's bond proposal for highways would have authorized the state Highway Commission to issue up to $575 million in bonds at any time for interstate highway improvements, an authorization that would have allowed the commission to issue such bonds in the future without another vote of the people.  The voters defeated that bond program by a 60 percent to 40 percent vote when the information was made known that it ended the right guaranteed by the Constitution for citizens to vote on bond issues and allowed the unelected Highway Commission to commit the state to an endless cycle of debt.

 

Now Governor Beebe is trying to pass a tax apart from the approval of the voters (guaranteed by the Constitution) except in case of an emergency, and no one can conscientiously claim there is an emergency. It is evident that the writers of the Arkansas Constitution intended voters to have a say in raising of certain taxes and borrowing money that would affect their taxes according to Amendment 19 and 20.  Note the comparison of the two Amendments below.   I wonder how many other emergencies the Legislature has used to circumvent the people's rights as guaranteed under the constitution.   As Oscar Stilley said in his letter to the Senators: Legislators have a constitutional obligation to vote against any attempt to legislatively increase this tax.  Legislators took an oath to uphold the constitution not their party or the person in power.

 

Amendment 19 - None of the rates for property, excise, privilege or

       personal taxes, now levied shall be increased by the General

Assembly except after the approval of the qualified electors

voting thereon at an election, or in case of emergency, by

the votes of three-fourths of the members elected to each

 House of the General Assembly. (Found under article V #38 of Arkansas        Constitution (see link after Amendment 20.

(emphases added)

 

Amendment 20 “Bonds prohibited except when approved by majority vote of electors. - Except for the purpose of refunding the existing outstanding indebtedness of the State and for assuming and refunding valid outstanding road improvement district bonds, the State of Arkansas shall issue no bonds or other evidence of indebtedness pledging the faith and credit of the State or any of its revenues for any purpose whatsoever, except by and with the consent of the majority of the qualified electors of the State voting on the question at a general election or at a special election called for that purpose.” (emphases added)  Link to the Arkansas Constitution http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/ar-constitution/arconst/arconst.htm

 

These laws allowing the people to vote on the severance tax and allowing public discussion would prevent such things as covered in the Democrat Gazette today.

 

 JUST A few weeks ago, the only tax plan on the table was Sheffield Nelson’s. In no time, we’ve gone from debating his solid, straight-up 7 percent tax to all but ratifying Mike Beebe’s 1. 5 or 1. 25 percent. How did the tax get so riddled with loopholes so fast? Just who got exemptions, and why did they get them? And is this the governor’s idea of genuine tax reform or just the mocked-up appearance of it? We the People may never know the answer to those fair questions, or what all went on in Mike Beebe’s backroom negotiations with the gas producers, but the result is clear enough: The state is to get a 5 percent tax on only 5 percent of the producing wells, and the rest of the natural gas industry gets... off lightly. Some reform.

It’s all enough to make you wish for a simple up-or-down vote on a clear, fair, straightforward tax. The kind that Sheffield Nelson, an old oil-and-gas man and public-spirited citizen, started to put on the ballot.

Is it too late to give the people of this state a chance to vote on this thing and maybe even a fair shake? Or has Mike Beebe succeeded in negotiating away the public interest behind those closed doors of his?   http://www.nwanews.com/adg/Editorial/221055/