Controversy over Wagner’s severance tax remarks
Katie Meyer, WITF
A state senator running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year has been urging fellow Republicans not to support a natural gas severance tax–in part because he thinks it would help Democratic Governor Tom Wolf politically.
Senator Scott Wagner’s remarks on the subject were recorded secretly by a campaign tracker.
They don’t constitute an ethics violation–though the state Democratic Party is saying the comments smack of conspiracy.
The recording is from a September 14th conference hosted by the conservative York 912 Patriots.
It was taken by a volunteer campaign tracker for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, and captured Wagner talking about House GOP Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor–a key figure in budget negotiations who has long been a vocal opponent of a severance tax.
“I said ‘Stan you cannot let this severance tax get through so that it gets to the governor’s desk, because if that happens the governor is going to get reelected,'” Wagner was recorded as saying. “Stan, you take that to the bank.”
Saylor’s spokesman said the gubernatorial race wouldn’t sway the chair’s stance on budget issues.
Wagner’s campaign manager, Jason High, confirmed the York County senator’s stance — saying it’s natural for budget issues to mix with campaign ones.
“There’s a lot of campaign overtones in the budget process, so he was speaking to a political group and he spoke to the politics of the severance tax,” High said. “It was more campaign rhetoric than anything.”
A spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party called Wagner “the height of Harrisburg dysfunction.”
But Robert Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said as far as he can tell, Wagner’s statements aren’t a conflict of interest, and are protected under the first amendment.