Pennsylvania hasn’t balanced its budget, is facing a $2 billion deficit, and has seen its credit rating drop, yet state legislators refuse to tap an available and abundant source of revenue.
Their stubbornness has prompted Gov. Wolf to propose a risky plan to borrow more than $1 billion against the state’s liquor revenue. That could be avoided if legislators who have accepted a fortune in campaign contributions from the gas industry didn’t protect it from shouldering its fair share of the tax burden to run the state.
The fracking industry’s wealth has drowned out the voices of everyday Pennsylvanians, who are forced to pick up the industry’s slack.
Since 2010, the drillers and their representatives have spent $46.6 million on lobbying and $14.5 million on strategic campaign contributions to legislative leaders and key committee chairs, reported Harrisburg bureau staff writers Angela Coulumbis and Liz Navratil.
Those figures don’t even include campaign donations made by gas industry beneficiaries, including pipe layers and utilities. It’s been an effective investment. In the last seven years, fracking-friendly legislators have quashed almost 70 attempts to impose a severance tax on natural gas.
Just this week, the House shut down a modest bill bravely put forth by Rep. Kate Harper (R., Montgomery). In June, the Senate passed a severance tax, but when the House took it up after its vacation in September, it predictably killed it.
It should be noted that House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) has received almost $250,000 in campaign contributions from the industry, and Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) has received $147,000 since 2010.
With money pouring into campaign coffers at that rate, it’s hard to take House leaders seriously when they resist taxing the industry.
Though campaign funding is a matter of public record, the full extent of the industry’s lobbying isn’t known because Pennsylvania’s lobbying law is so outdated. It doesn’t break down how much the industry spends to lobby individual legislators. That should be changed so constituents can learn just whom their legislators are listening to – because it isn’t them.
How this year’s deficit will be resolved remains unknown. Soon, state spending could be frozen, and schools, social service providers, and others dependent on state funding may have to cut back services — again.
Meanwhile, the gas legislators seem content to have natural gas companies pay only an impact fee based on the number of wells they have. Most of that money goes to the communities where drilling occurs.
In every other major natural-gas-producing state, the industry pays a tax on the volume of gas it takes from the earth. Last year, the industry produced 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Pennsylvania, amounting to about $10 billion in gross annual revenue. Surely, there’s room among all those billions for an appropriate severance tax.
Unless something changes, the future of Pennsylvania’s budget problems is clear. The gas-fueled legislators will keep running the state into the ground until voters decide they’re tired of subsidizing the industry and its lackeys.