In an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" last night, tax reform guru Grover Norquist denied that he wields any direct influence over votes in the U.S. Congress, saying only that he "applauds from the sidelines."
But Norquist - founder of Americans for Tax Reform and creator of the controversial "no-tax" pledge - was more than a ghost in the halls of the Pennsylvania State House chamber last week during marathon debate on the Marcellus Shale tax.
Norquist - who had originally supported Gov. Corbett's impact fee proposal - changed his ruling last week, declaring that the newly-configured $40,000-per-well fee was in fact a tax because it directed a percentage of the revenue reaped from the wells to the general fund.
And he let members know it with not one, but two letters, that arrived amid the days-long shale bill debate.
In between, Corbett issued his own email volley defending the fee.
Norquist fired off the letters over four days to members of the House, stating that in no uncertain terms the legislation they were voting on a "tax" and therefore voting for it would violate the no-tax pledge.
The implication being, of course, that those pledge violators could well see opposition in the election next year.
In mid-debate, Corbett fired back, asserting that indeed it was a fee because the money would be funneled only to agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protections, that play a role in shale drilling.
In a counter offensive on Thursday Norquist wrote to House members:
"Just look at where the money goes and it is easy to see that it does not pass the laugh test when it comes to trying to claim this as a fee."
Democrats who fought for a much higher "fee" to be allocated for environmental programs beyond those related to shale drilling, gleefully used the letters in the floor debate to call out Republican lawmakers who had signed the pledge, saying, "see Norquist says it's a tax."
Neither Norquist's admonitions, nor Democratic bullying worked. The measure (HB 1950) passed by a vote of 107-76. The Senate passed its own bill, leaving the two chambers to work out their differences and agree on final legislation.
But wait does Corbett get the last word?
The governor again today defended the legislation and said his support of it would not violate the pledge.
"I disagree with his opinion on that," said Corbett, speaking to a packed room at the Pennsylvania Press Club's monthly luncheon. "He said the impact fee we introduced was not a tax and I have indicated that I believe there are impacts on communities."
For more on what's contained in House Bill 1950 see public radio's State Impact PA analysis here.
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