Commentary

Who do you work for?

By Blair Jackson |

For whom do you work, Congressman?

This is the question each citizen of District 2 should be asking himself after Mike Ross and Tim Griffin left their posts in Washington to appear at a Conway Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.

The Chamber is deliberating a petition for a severance tax on the natural gas industry. The proposed tax would, at 7 percent, help repair damage done to roads by the heavy rigs. (Read more about the severance tax in Joyce Hale’s “Fracking in Arkansas” series, on page 18.)

What makes this tax unique is the dynamic of the political players involved. The tax was proposed by Sheffield Nelson, a former Executive of the Gas Industry, who is, according to Ernest Dumas of the Arkansas Times, “spending from his modest fortune to produce some gain for the public from the exploitation of vanishing material.”

When, on the other hand, both Ross and Griffin have received substantial amounts of money via Natural Gas Industry Political Action Committees.

According to Common Cause, a group that studies political spending by the natural gas industry, Ross received $142,350 and Griffin has received $64,350 over the past 10 years from the industry. Now, for Ross, who’s been in office since 2001, this averages to about $26,000 per election year.

The report wasn’t itemized by year, so the average campaign contribution for Representative Ross is speculative. However, Griffin was elected to office in 2010, meaning he received the entire $64,350 during his last campaign.

So why did Mike Ross travel to Conway, which is not in his district, to speak to a panel about the severance tax?
The guise of bipartisan agreement.

These two are serious about stopping this tax from reaching the ballot, and they are fighting, not to argue their point of view, but to deny the public the chance to vote on the issue.

In order for the severance tax to reach the voting ballot in November, Sheffield needs more than 60,000 signatures. Ross and Griffin don’t even want a petition to be presented.

Here are some things we need to get real about:

1) The large oil and gas companies have deep pockets, and to be honest, if I were Rep. Griffin, I wouldn’t feel pressured to go out of my way for the milk money of 60k the industry threw my way, especially to interfere with a tax that would aid in road repairs — a necessity for further industrial growth.

2) Gas and oil have been around for millions of years. It’s not going anywhere unless someone comes to drill it. What’s the rush? To keep gas prices low? Don’t kid yourself. The rush to drill for natural gas is the reason BHP decided to move development to Texas, where the crude oil refineries are. Prices DROPPED in the natural gas industry because the supply began competing with the demand. BHP had to shift the focus of development because, currently, natural gas is not as profitable. They’ll be back before we know it.

3) We have the resources they want. We are allowed to call the shots. Instead of banging down the door and bending over backwards for the industry, we should stand up and make a solid deal that includes our terms: safe standards, accountability and compensation when those practices are broken.

4) This is a temporary market. Natural gas can be depleted. And though I believe we’re seeing the beginning of the end of our domestic oil and gas resources, I don’t think there’s any danger of missing our chance of profiting from our natural resources.

5) The “But it creates Jobs!” argument is tired. Sure, the HMR (Hotel/Motel Restaurant) tax might be up, but this indicates a transient population of workers who are not invested in the economy or community in which they work. The middle class is suffering because workers can’t find jobs in their specialties, not because they can’t find a job waiting tables.

Opposing this tax, I can respect, but trying to stifle it before people get a chance to vote? Sorry, I don’t think you have our state’s best interest in mind.

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