Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

WED 5-24-6 EDITORIAL >> Good Mike

No sooner are the spiteful words out than there is a sighting of the good Mike Huckabee, the progressive executive who is looking out for the long-term public interest. You know, the one whom the extremists of his party call a flaming liberal.
It was on his monthly television show on public television. Maybe it is the influence of that rational venue, but the governor often turns thoughtful and magnanimous on the show. He was talking about the large natural gas deposits — the so-called “Fayetteville Shale” (see page 7A) — that have been discovered stretching from the Boston Mountains to at least Prairie County. Agents are combing the land to get mineral leases, and there is talk of royalty wealth and vast production.

The legislature, Huckabee said, should raise the severance tax on natural gas so that the public might get some lasting benefit from the speculation and production. Now, he did not volunteer to handle it himself, at a special session, say, but it is something his successor ought to do. Critics will say that it’s just like him — sure, leave the tough work for someone else when he could have sponsored the legislation at any of the legislative sessions the past two years — but that is not entirely fair. He has actually taken on some pretty risky issues, like school consolidation and banning smoking in workplaces.

Arkansas has always been the weakest state when it comes to wringing taxes from those who exploit its finite mineral resources. Of all the natural-gas producing states, Arkansas is the only one that does not materially tax the gas that is taken from its soil and transported to factories and homes across the country. The tax rate is three-tenths of a penny on each thousand cubic feet of gas, which is nothing more than a nuisance. Texas and Oklahoma charge hundreds of times more.

It is not a matter of needing more money. As Huckabee suggests, the state could lower some other taxes to offset it. But it should be a bedrock policy that the state will recoup for the people and for posterity some small recompense for the taking of natural resources that once exploited can never be reclaimed. Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyo-ming and Alaska, where the governments are famous for kowtowing to the big energy interests, stood with the public interest long enough to insist upon that small bit of accountability. And it has stood their children in good stead. Those states have funneled billions of dollars into education and kept other taxes low as a result of severance taxes.