Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission will recommend an impact fee on gas drillers in its final report, due out Friday. That being the case, Grover Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, is offering helpful hints on how to implement a levy on energy companies without violating its “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
Corbett, of course, made the ATR pledge a central theme of his campaign for governor. So far, he’s been able to stick to the “no new taxes” promise, but the Republican has said he’s waiting for the commission to weigh in, before he decides whether or not to endorse a levy on drillers.
In an interview with StateImpact, ATR’s director of state affairs, Patrick Gleason, said a fee “could be done in a pledge-compliant way” under certain conditions. “If [the commission and lawmakers] are dead-set on doing that, we believe the most beneficial way would be to provide broad-based tax relief. The two most obvious examples are reducing the corporate tax rate…and the personal income tax.”
Gleason wrote an editorial in Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer making the same argument. “Given that the energy industry has generated more than $7 billion in taxes, royalties, lease payments, and fees in the state over the past five years, along with tens of thousands of high-paying jobs,” he wrote, “any tax on drilling should be considered only as a way of providing broad-based, pro-growth tax relief.”
ATR’s pledge allows lawmakers and governors to raise taxes, providing they offset the increase with a reduction in other levies. But the commission is recommending an impact fee to address specific demands on local governments – not to lower taxes across the commonwealth. “What our charge was from the governor was to determine whether or not there were uncompensated impacts that might require an impact fee,” explained Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley on Friday. “And in some cases, we did in fact find that there are.”
Corbett’s adherence to the ATR pledge infuriated Democrats during this year’s budget cycle, and the minority party isn’t exactly receiving Gleason’s input with open arms. “Having Grover Norquist be the referee – the unelected referee – on how public policy is determined is nothing short of outrageous,” opined House Democratic Caucus Secretary Dan Frankel.
“We tell Democratic lawmakers they should be mad at Pennsylvania voters, and not at us,” said Gleason, who’s used to hearing similar complaints from legislators across the county. “The pledge was a commitment Corbett made to Pennsylvanians. …He ran on that. It was no secret that he would not raise taxes. And Pennsylvania voters elected him.”
Of course, 69 percent of those same fickle voters support a tax or fee on drillers.