LITTLE ROCK — Sheffield Nelson’s efforts to put a ballot initiative to raise the state severance tax on natural gas before voters in November officially ended Monday.
The former natural gas industry executive failed to meet a deadline for submitting enough signatures to the secretary of state to make up for a more than 40,000-signature deficiency. Nelson had suspended the campaign to place his proposed initiated act on the ballot in July after Secretary of State Mark Martin invalidated nearly 70 percent of the 69,774 signatures he submitted for his proposal to raise the state’s severance tax from 5 percent to 7 percent and eliminate exemptions.
Nelson needed to collect another 41,000 valid signatures by Monday to make the ballot for November.
“We got it stuck to us so early. We kind of put that to rest,” Nelson told Arkansas News Bureau business columnist Roby Brock.
He said another 12,000 to 15,000 signatures trickled in after he announced the campaign’s suspension, but he did not plan to turn them over to the secretary of state for counting.
Nelson has said he would welcome an investigation into possible canvassing improprieties. State police and authorities in Craighead and Crittenden counties are looking into suspected improprieties in northeastern Arkansas. Nelson said he hopes to see efforts to raise the severance tax revived in the future.
“I think the real losers (in his aborted campaign) are the people of the state of Arkansas,” he said. “It certainly is something that I or someone else should take up in the future.”
Opponents of the measure said the lack of signatures showed a lack of public support for the effort.
“The fact Mr. Nelson fell so short of the signature requirement shows Arkansans were not supportive of a tax increase that would jeopardize thousands of Arkansas jobs and threaten a vital part of the state’s economy,” said Randy Zook, chairman of Arkansans for Jobs and Affordable Energy, a severance tax opposition group headed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce-Associated Industries of Arkansas.
“I applaud the people of Arkansas for recognizing the harmful impact Mr. Nelson’s severance tax measure would have had on our state,” Zook, the state chamber president, said in a news release.