The legislature's failure to enact a tax on natural-gas production is a direct result of Pennsylvania's broken campaign-finance system.
Back in June, leaders in the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, pledged in writing to approve a tax on methane production by Oct. 1. Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state without the tax, and the revenue would help communities pay for the environmental impact of the drilling boom.
It's almost November, and legislators have adjourned without enacting the tax. The gas industry got what it paid for in Harrisburg.
State legislators refuse to set reasonable limits on campaign donations in Pennsylvania. And their weasel-like performance on the gas tax is a perfect example of why they resist campaign reform.
As the debate over the tax dragged on in this election year, the gas industry pumped hefty donations into the campaigns of friendly legislators. Few states allow companies or individuals to donate $25,000 or even $250,000 to a candidate's campaign. But Pennsylvania welcomes the cash.
And so Senate President Pro Tem Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) has amassed at least $143,000 in campaign donations from the industry. The Senate GOP never even held a vote on a tax proposal. When Scarnati's team left town, it was considering a tax that would have been among the lowest in the nation.
If Republican Tom Corbett is elected governor in November, the tax issue will be dead for at least four more years. He opposes the production tax and has accepted more than $700,000 from an industry hoping he wins. Democrat Dan Onorato, who has received far less from gas drillers, wants to impose a production tax.
The Democratic-led House did approve a tax on drillers, but helped doom the effort to failure. Although Democrats had since June to work on the proposal, they didn't approve a bill until a couple of days before the Oct. 1 deadline. And their bill called for one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, a feature they knew would be dead on arrival in the Senate.