LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed a $5 million tax exemption for the sand used in natural gas drilling on Monday, saying it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to include the tax break in a state agency's budget bill.
Beebe used his line-item veto authority to strike the exemption, which was included in the appropriation bill for the Department of Finance and Administration's revenue services division. In a letter to lawmakers, Beebe said the tax break should have been considered on its own rather than slipped into an appropriation bill.
Beebe said the exemption violated an amendment voters approved in 2008 requiring the Legislature to meet annually, with sessions in even-numbered years focused on the state's budget. During the fiscal session, non-budget bills must win the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate to even be introduced.
"Substantive changes to Arkansas law that have no relation to appropriations, such as Section 16 of HB 1048, should rarely be considered during fiscal sessions," Beebe said in the letter. "If they are to be considered at all, it should be done through the process the people established in our Constitution, and not through 'special language' amendments to unrelated appropriation bills."
A Pulaski County circuit judge ruled earlier this month that sand qualifies as equipment, meaning taxes can't be collected on it. Lawmakers who backed the exemption said they're clarifying the law to follow the judge's decision.
Beebe's decision sets up a potential override vote when the Legislature convenes Wednesday to formally adjourn this year's session. It takes only a simple majority to override the Democratic governor's veto, and Republicans control both the House and Senate.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who proposed the amendment to the budget bill, said he'll likely seek an override. Dismang defended including the exemption in the budget bill rather than proposing it as a separate measure.
"It's appropriate for us to provide legislative intent on the original law and let DFA know that they are operating outside of the authority the legislature provided them with," Dismang said.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux said he would support an override, but hadn't polled the Senate yet to see if enough votes were there.
"I don't think the Legislature passed a statute authorizing the collection of the tax in the first place, which is where I think the analysis of this issue should be focused," Lamouruex, R-Russellville, said.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, called for an override and described the veto as a "bad choice that threatens Arkansas jobs from our state's natural gas industry in a time of high unemployment."
This is third time Beebe has used his line-item veto authority and his 18th veto since taking office in 2007. Lawmakers last year overrode three of six measures Beebe vetoed — two abortion restrictions and a measure requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. A federal judge last week struck down one of the abortion laws, one banning most abortions 12 weeks into a woman's pregnancy.
Beebe told reporters Monday he hoped lawmakers wouldn't override the veto. Beebe had hinted last week he would reject the measure, saying he thought a court would toss it out if he didn't.
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