WASHINGTON — The entire Arkansas delegation is now backing legislation that would provide tax relief to Mayflower families harmed when an estimated 147,000 gallons of oil spilled into their neighborhood in March.
Legislative by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., would ensure that compensation paid to families for the pipeline spill is not taxed by the federal government.
The bill introduced Wednesday mirrors a proposal introduced last week by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and co-sponsored by the state’s other three House members.
"This will give us additional momentum to possibly get it passed," Griffin said. "Having all our senators and representatives on it sends a pretty clear message."
Griffin proposed the legislation so that Mayflower families would not have to pay income tax on compensation they receive from ExxonMobil as a result of the spill. Such relief is granted automatically for presidentially declared disasters — something that has not happened for the Mayflower families.
ExxonMobil owns the pipeline that ruptured on March 29. The company has provided financial relief to 66 families in the neighborhood, about a third of whom had to leave their homes after the spill. Only three families have been able to return home, according to Pryor and Boozman.
Neighborhood families received between $10,000 and $20,000 from ExxonMobil as well as payments for hotels, apartments, gasoline, food spoilage and other incidental costs incurred because of the spill. Added up, the families could be on the hook for as much as $10,000 in additional income taxes, Griffin said.
Pryor teamed up with Boozman on a Senate version to protect the families from such a large tax liability.
"Families in Mayflower are still coping with the aftermath of the oil spill — damaged homes, lost possessions and the disruption of everyday life. The last thing they need, or deserve, is to have their compensation taxed," Pryor said.
"Much like victims of federal disaster areas are exempt from disaster relief payments, these families also deserve that benefit," Boozman said.
Griffin, who serves on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said he is looking for ways to move the legislation quickly through Congress. Having a Senate version of the bill, he said, would help.