Surrendering on the severance tax

Yesterday, in an editorial praising the State House for passing an early budget, the Inquirer quoted House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans explaining why the House didn't include a tax on natural gas drilling that the governor had proposed:

Evans hasn't ruled out a tax on natural gas drillers, but said, "I don't see the political support."

This is one of the most frustrating arguments we hear from elected officials. Over and over, a sensible proposal is shot down because it doesn't have political support. When will policy-makers realize that part of their job is to create a constituency for good ideas?

The natural gas severance tax is a perfect example. There is a massive amount of natural gas underneath Pennsylvania, and companies are eager to get at it. They already pay severance taxes in every other state where they have mining operations. If Pennsylvania added a severance tax, gas companies would just chalk it up as the cost of doing business.

But we can't do something as sensible as that. Why? Because many lawmakers, especially Republicans in the Pa. Senate, have taken a “no new taxes” pledge. So, despite the fact we have a massive new industry in the state, they don't want to ask it to chip in for the environmental impact of mining.

Does this make life tough for supporters of the tax? Of course! But, it would be nice if, before waving a white flag, they tried to go to the public and make a case for the idea. In fact, they might be able to put some pressure on their opponents.

Of course, we don't want another budget-delay fiasco like last year. But timing shouldn't be the only concern. A flawed budget passed by June 30th is a flawed budget for an entire year.

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