Enough is enough. Pennsylvania is more than three months into the new fiscal year and a plan to responsibly fund the 20I7-18 budget has not been brought up for a vote in either chamber of the Pennsylvania general assembly. While legislative leaders and the governor continue to negotiate a plan that relies on one-time budget gimmicks, gaming expansion and borrowing, proposals offered by rank and file members that generate revenues have been buried by legislative leaders and special interest groups. For example, a Republican member of the House of Representatives offered a proposal to tax natural gas extraction, however, the legislation has been stalled via political maneuvering. Since the Great Recession, revenues have lagged in Pennsylvania and the budget deficit continually grows. Pennsylvania has an abundant resource that other states tax, yet ours is continually harvested with very little compensation.
It is clear to me that a bipartisan coalition of members support a fair tax on natural gas companies. Since 2OL4, polling data has shown that a majority of Pennsylvanians favor a Marcellus Shale extraction tax. Despite overwhelming support by both legislators and their constituents, legislative leaders continue to obstruct the passage of a tax on natural gas while drillers turn Pennsylvania’s natural resource into massive profits. Ironically, I have spoken to lobbyists representing the natural gas drillers. They have been very clear that the drillers are willing to pay a fair tax in order to put this issues behind them. Despite the drillers’ position, legislative leaders refuse to put an extraction tax up for a vote. Enough is enough.
It is time that rank and file members of the general assembly have an opportunity to cast an up or down vote on sensible proposals that raise revenues rather than awaiting a funding plan that will likely result in another budget stalemate in 2018. A tax on the extraction of natural gas from Pennsylvania, which will likely be exported, is better than a tax at the point-of-sale, or an increase in hotel, sales or personal income taxes. The conjecture about the impact a shale tax will have on the industry and businesses that use byproducts of natural gas extraction and production needs to stop. Pennsylvanians need to come before politics and special interests.
Rather than mirroring the political gamesmanship and partisanship of Washington, legislators need to work in a bipartisan fashion to address Pennsylvania’s budgetary shortfalls. That starts with allowing rank and file members of the general assembly to do the job they were elected to do: represent the best interests of their constituents.
Scott Conklin is a state representative, D-Rush Township.