Natural Gas Surcharge Wasn't a Tax, High Court Says

FEBRUARY 3, 2006 - Posted at 8:08 a.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Extra money paid by Arkansas natural gas customers to help pay for reconnecting low-income ratepayers whose service was cut off was part of the rate structure at the time and not a refundable tax.  That was the ruling yesterday from the state Supreme Court.  The high court said anybody wanting a refund from a gas company should take the matter up with the state Public Service Commission.

A surcharge to gas bills was added in the fall of 2001.  It was intended to pay for restoring service to people who lost it after they were unable to pay huge gas bills following twin ice storms in the winter of 2000-2001.  The surcharge was struck down in 2003.

Ratepayer Fran Austin had claimed the PSC allowed the gas companies to charge an illegal tax in the form of the surcharge.  In a class-action filing, she requested a refund for herself and other ratepayers.  Yesterday's ruling by the high court held that the surcharge was a part of the service rate at the time, not a tax, and therefore not refundable.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)