Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gas bags stop natural gas tax: Pennsylvania edition

Why has Pennsylvania allowed shale gas drillers to frack away merrily without paying a tax to the state? The answer is that they do pay for the privilege, only the pay doesn't go to the state---it goes to the lawmakers.
Over the years, both Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg have wanted to raise revenue by passing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers. Polls have consistently shown a majority of Pennsylvania voters support it. Last year, the idea helped propel Democrat Tom Wolf into the governor’s mansion.
But now, as Wolf and the Republican-led legislature struggle to reach a budget deal after a nearly five-month long standoff, the severance tax is once again off the table.
The tax has been debated since the shale boom took off, so why hasn’t it happened?
There are two main reasons: lawmakers who loathe raising taxes– and lobbyists.
These are not independent variables. The lawmakers are under the direct control of the lobbyists. Case in point:
It was obvious over the summer, right before the July 1st budget deadline. Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai called a press conference and railed against the tax.
“I think the governor’s severance tax proposals are designed to stop the growth of natural gas,” he said. “It’s going to stop energy independence, and it’s going to stop the growth of jobs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
As Turzai stood in front of a group of reporters and TV cameras at the Capitol, there was another crowd off to his left. More than half a dozen oil and gas lobbyists watched as Turzai read directly from a booklet of talking points emblazoned with the logo of EQT—one of the biggest drillers near his home district in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Turzai declined to comment for this story.
Yes, that Mike Turzai, the squirrelly little asshat , Mr. Voter Fraud Fraud himself, 
 But the legislature’s perennial failure to implement a severance tax doesn’t surprise Barry Kauffman. He’s the executive director of the nonpartisan government reform group, Common Cause Pennsylvania.
His group has closely tracked campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of Marcellus drillers. During last year’s election, they spent $17.9 million on state lobbying alone. They spent another $2.8 million on campaign contributions.
“Our elected officials know where their bread is being buttered,” says Kauffman. “Pennsylvania’s one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions. That is just completely absurd.”
No, that's not absurd. That Pennsylvania. 

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