Arkansas Gov. says he would sign legislation to raise tax private owners of forestland pay for fire protection by 5 cents/acre, but doubts such a bill would pass

Audrey Dixon

Audrey Dixon

Jan 27, 2012 – Industry Intelligence

LOS ANGELES , January 25, 2012 () –

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday that he would sign a bill to raise by 5 cents per acre the tax that private owners of forestland pay for fire protection, if the legislature passed such a bill, the Arkansas News Bureau reported Jan. 24.

On Monday, John Shannon, director of the state Forestry Commission, urged a subcommittee of the state Joint Budget Committee to support the tax. The Forestry Commission laid off 34 employees Jan. 13 because of a US$4 million shortfall.

Shannon said he believed the private landowners who currently pay a 15 cents-per-acre property tax--including timber companies--would support a 5-cents-per-acre increase if it would reinforce the commission’s ability to fight forest fires.

Although Beebe said he would sign a bill if the legislature passed it, he expressed doubt it would. The tax would add another burden to the already battered forest products industry, Beebe said, reported the Arkansas News Bureau.

The legislature is scheduled to meet Feb. 13 to consider budget items and it is not clear whether the tax proposal will make it to that stage, reported the Arkansas News Bureau.

State finance officials say the Forestry Commission improperly used federal grant money for ongoing expenses, bringing about the shortfall. The agency was reacting to a drop in timber sales income and taxes.

State auditors said that they, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are investigating such issues, including the Forestry Commission's alleged double-counting of the federal money, the Arkansas News Bureau reported.

House Speaker Robert Moore, D-Arkansas City, said Tuesday that more analysis of the budget shortfall is needed before increasing the fire protection tax.

Shannon was due on Thursday to bring a plan for his agency back to the forestry subcommittee. House Minority Leader John Burris, R-Harrison, said Shannon "needs to do better than" the tax proposal, and that lawmakers wanted him to deliver a serious plan that would “convince the Legislature that he’s the right person to lead this agency back into solvency.”

The primary source of this article is the Arkansas News Bureau, Little Rock, Arkansas, on Jan. 24, 2012.

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