Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Inquirer Editorial: Natural gasbags

Only three abbreviated weeks of work remain for Pennsylvania's legislature, which is on a familiar course toward dodging its responsibilities.

Only three abbreviated weeks of work remain for Pennsylvania's legislature, which is on a familiar course toward dodging its responsibilities.

When legislators approved a state budget in July, they also agreed to enact a new tax on the booming methane-gas industry by Oct. 1. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without such a tax. Municipalities need help paying for the environmental impact of drilling, and the state could use the revenue.

But it looks as if legislators will fail to approve a tax on drillers at all, let alone by Friday.

Time is running out to work on tedious legislation in Harrisburg. Legislators need to rush home to campaign for reelection, many using donations provided by those same natural-gas drillers.

Both parties are at fault for the slow pace of work. A bill to tax drilling must originate in the House. But majority Democrats have feuded over splitting revenue between the state and municipalities. They've finally set a tentative floor vote for Wednesday.

The delay has taken the heat off the Republican-led Senate, where the industry is pushing a laughable proposal to tax gas production at a lower rate than virtually any other state in the nation. Of course, this proposal would be higher than Pennsylvania's current tax of zero.

Gov. Rendell has proposed a fair tax on the industry, modeled on West Virginia's. But a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) called the House Democrats' similar proposal "entirely unacceptable."

A significant portion of tax revenue from methane production should go to the state for tapping a valuable, nonrenewable resource and enforcing environmental regulations. The House and Senate agreed in writing to enact a tax, but they're headed toward breaking that promise. And they still manage to keep a straight face while asking for your vote.

Drilling companies are only too happy about the prospect of failure. They're banking on GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, who opposes any new taxes.

Corbett leads Democrat Dan Onorato in the polls, and also leads the Democrat by 6-1 in methane-industry donations, with a total of more than $361,000. If the industry can coax three more weeks of gridlock from a legislature that aspires to inaction on its best days, drillers should escape the tax for four more years.

The legislature has other responsibilities whose chances for solutions are fading rapidly. House Democrats have all but given up on a plan to raise needed transportation revenue for new construction projects next year, despite a swelling backlog of crumbling bridges, deteriorating roads, and aging transit systems.

The House in June approved a bipartisan plan to ease the state's looming pension crisis. Without a solution, taxpayers would be forced to contribute an extra $5 billion in fiscal 2012-13 and high amounts for years afterward. But Scarnati's spokesman said it "remains to be seen" whether the Senate will send back its own plan before the House is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 6.

Only in Harrisburg can you get such low performance at such a high cost.