Beebe Says No Special Session Unless He Gets Votes for Severance Tax Hike

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Governor Mike Beebe says he won't call a special session to consider raising the state's severance tax on natural gas unless he gets a commitment from the majority of legislators needed to pass such a hike.

Beebe told reporters today that he doesn't have a specific tax increase yet to offer lawmakers as a compromise to a proposed ballot hike that would raise the tax on natural gas production.  Beebe has said a special session is possible if a compromise can be reached with natural gas firms, which have been exploring the Fayetteville Shale formation.

Beebe raised the possiblity of a special session last week after former utility executive Sheffield Nelson filed a proposed initiated act to raise the state's severance tax.  If the proposed act's language is certified by the attorney general's office, Nelson must gather 61,974 signatures to place it on the November ballot.

The proposal is opposed by natural gas firms and incoming Senate President Bob Johnson of Bigelow, who says increasing the tax rate could hurt business in the state.

Beebe says he does not believe the public is being shut out of the process by negotiating a compromise privately first with legislators and natural gas firms.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)