A former utility executive backing a proposal to raise the state's severance tax on natural gas proposed a series of debates with natural gas firms. Sheffield Nelson also suggested that he may debate a dummy in a chair if no one shows up.
Nelson is trying to get his proposed tax increase on the November ballot. He said he has asked the president of the University of Central Arkansas to host a debate between Nelson and Harold Korell, the president of Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company.
Nelson said he plans to ask other firms, exploring the Fayetteville Shale natural gas formation in Arkansas, to similar debates. Nelson is a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, and headed Arkla Inc. years before it became part of Centerpoint Energy Inc.
Southwestern Energy executive John Thaeler said the utility was working with Governor Beebe to come up with a compromise but did not say whether Korell would debate Nelson. UCA President Lu Hardin said his school would host a debate and planned to invite Korell.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor's office is working on language that could be used for either an initiated act or legislation, if a special session is called. Beebe has not said how much of a tax increase he would prefer.
DeCample said Beebe had not yet reached an agreement with natural gas firms on a compromise proposal.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)