When is a fee a tax? When Grover Norquist says so.
The Inquirer reported last week that anti-tax guru Norquist was the wizard behind the Oz-like fiscal contortions of the GOP-controlled state legislature, which has refused to consider raising revenue of any kind in the face of a massive debt.
It was Norquist and his D.C.-based group, Americans for Tax Reform, who advanced the "no tax" pledge signed by hundreds of elected officials, including Gov. Corbett and 34 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The state House - in keeping with Corbett's "no way, no-how" to new taxes - has buried any proposals to place a levy on Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction.
But this month Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) bit the bullet and offered up a shale gas "impact fee" with proceeds funneled to affected areas.
Over in the governor's office, Corbett remains unwavering in his campaign-era hard line over tax increases, but in recent months has shown some hint of openness - if not support - of the prospect of an "impact fee."
Because Grover -arbiter of all things fiscal throughout the land - said so.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today reports that Norquist sent a letter to Sen. Mary Jo White (R., Venango) whose committee would have to consider the shale fee pronouncing it, in fact, a tax.
“Make no mistake, this proposal is a tax increase based on any honest and objective analysis,” Norquist wrote.
“As such, a vote in favor of Senate Bill 1100 also represents a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a commitment which Gov. Corbett and 34 members of the legislature have made to their constituents to impose any and all efforts to raise taxes.”
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told the Post-Gazette the governor is awaiting the report of his Marcellus Shale Commission - which will come after the budget deadline June 30- before making up his mind.
Scarnati said he got the Norquist letter too and responded by touting his record opposing the "spend-and-tax philosophy.” He also listed four reasons why he believes the impact fee is not a tax.