GOP preps a no-tax budget, daring Wolf to veto

  • Mary Wilson, WITF News
A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Critics of a zoning change in Middlesex Township fear more rigs like this will be built in previously residential areas.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Republicans legislative leaders say Gov. Wolf's gas tax proposal is dead.

The centerpiece of Governor Tom Wolf’s state budget died its umpteenth death around a negotiating table this week.

Republican legislative leaders emerged from closed-door negotiations with the Democratic Wolf administration to announce that the governor’s proposed severance tax on natural gas drillers is a non-negotiable no-go.

“Our counter-proposal was nothing,” said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. “Yeah, nothing.”

Wolf adviser John Hanger said the administration offered major concessions on a Marcellus Shale tax: there would be no minimum price on gas, and drillers wouldn’t have someone looking over their shoulder to double-check how much they make off the gas. The governor’s team also offered to guarantee that the state’s existing impact fee levied on drillers would remain, addressing a concern of communities that receive funding from the fee to address the effects of gas extraction and the industry that has sprung up around it.

All proposals were rejected by Republican leaders, said Hanger. Wolf had planned to use revenue from a severance tax to fund a $400 million increase in funding for schools this year.

“Frankly, we’re being met by a wall of ideology that is putting very special interests ahead of the people of the state,” said Hanger. “In this instance, the drillers were put ahead of the school children of Pennsylvania.”

The leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate have been opposed to a new drilling tax since before Wolf proposed it. They say it would cause the energy industry to pull out of Pennsylvania, but Democrats argue the industry would never desert the state’s ample gas reserves.

Scarnati said a budget entirely of Republican making is being drafted now that will include no new taxes, and rely on revenues from changes to public pensions and liquor sales. He said it can be on the governor’s desk by June 30.