HARRISBURG - With the legislative session winding down and the opportunities to pass a Marcellus Shale natural-gas tax dwindling, Gov. Rendell called on House and Senate leaders to send him an offer he can't refuse.
In a roughly 10-minute conference call with Democratic and Republican leaders Tuesday, Rendell told them that if they did not like his compromise shale tax proposal, they should deliver to him a counterproposal by the end of the day.
"There's never going to be a deal if people don't come back with a counterproposal," said Rendell's spokesman, Gary Tuma.
Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, were still working on their proposal late Tuesday afternoon, and said they would have it to him by Wednesday.
Just over a week ago, Senate Republicans delivered Rendell draft legislation that outlined their position on a tax. That proposal calls for a 1.5 percent tax on the market value of gas from wells producing more than 150,000 cubic feet of gas. That rate would apply for the first five years of production, at which point the tax would increase to 5 percent.
At the time, Tuma said the proposal was "in the realm of something the governor does not consider a reasonable tax . . . and would veto."
Rendell originally proposed a 5 percent tax on sales of the extracted gas, and an additional 4.7 cents for every 1,000 cubic feet produced.
Rendell's latest offer is to phase in a levy on gas extracted from the rich shale formation that lies beneath most of the state, starting at 3 percent next year and topping out at 5 percent.
The bill the House approved last month calls for a much heftier rate: a levy of a minimum of 39 cents per 1,000 cubic feet (or about 10 percent) of natural gas produced.
Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), said the Democrats would send a memo to Rendell expressing their "willingness to be flexible and negotiate" but mindful that their chamber had approved their proposal with bipartisan support.
Meanwhile, Drew Crompton, legal counsel to Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said Scarnati didn't have "any inclination" to ask his members to return to Harrisburg this week.
Even if there were a deal between all sides, said Crompton, Senate Republicans believe that the House must return to the Capitol to pass that legislation first.
The House was to return this week for a voting session, but canceled at the last minute. It still plans to meet for five session days beginning Nov. 8, but with the Senate holding its ground that it will not return after the Nov. 2 election, any legislation would have to be delivered to the House by the Senate for final passage before the election.
And history and political common sense dictates that the likelihood of either chamber returning a week before the election to vote is slim to nil.
Driving another nail in the coffin of a shale tax, Crompton said Tuesday that there had been no substantive discussion of how proceeds from an extraction tax would be distributed among the state, municipalities, and environmental causes.
"And before there can be any resolution to this matter, there has to be an agreement as to where the tax proceeds go," Crompton said.