Monday, March 31, 2008

Where is the "Emergency" for the Speical Session?

From an E-mail being circulated from Ft. Smith Attorney Oscar Stilley (whose license to practice was suspended under questionable circumstances, I believe due to the vigor with which he challenged the good-ole-boy system). The state treasury is overflowing with funds right now. Where is the "emergency" required by our constitution to raise a severance tax without a vote of the people?

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


Anonymous Rick said...


The emergency is that the politicans don't want anyone making money unless they get their cut. Forget about the billions the natural gas companies are pouring into the state. I think we call this tax system legalized stealing, or illigal in this case.

12:24 PM, March 31, 2008  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Some are trying to use the court's language from a 1991 ruling to justify what is in reality making "an emergency" into anything that a bare majority of the legislature says is an emergency. Below I state why that reasoning is fallacious...

Steve you know that the ruling on that case applies only to the particulars of the case. The court themselves leaned on you guys to provide more money for schools, and you did not have the sums they demanded on hand in 2003. I don't see their attitude as having changed much so OF COURSE they are going to see that as a legitimate emergency. This case is entirely different.

Right now the state Treasury has on hand in higher-than-expected tax collections an amount that dwarfs what they are expected to collect from the tax in the next year. There is no court mandate for improved roads.

If this is "an emergency" then it is tantamount to defining "an emergency" as anything that a majority of the legislature says is an "emergency". This could not have been the intent of the voters when they passed the 19th amendment, as it was clearly attempting to limit even the times when a 3/4ths vote of the legislature could raise most taxes to the case of an "emergency". If a simply majority vote of the legislature could make any wish list one could conjure into "an emergency" then the inclusion of the emergency provision would be redundant.

If 3/4ths of the legislature favors a measure, then it is pointless to include a separate "emergency" requirement if indeed an "emergency" was whatever a simple majority of the legislators said it was.

12:36 PM, March 31, 2008  
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