Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gas industry's free pass costs state, residents

Commentary by Laura Vecsey
November 17, 2009, 8:25PM

The winter of our discontent is upon us.

What that means, fellow Pennsylvanians, is that as of this week, there are 319 fewer state
employees doing their jobs on behalf of, well, we the people.

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Historical and Museum Commission saw the largest number of furloughs, but the impact is far-reaching. Attorney General Tom Corbett said last week that the 11 percent budget cut for his office will slow down investigations.

In this Great Recession, in which state and national unemployment are at the highest levels in decades, it’s not inconceivable that the state might have to reduce its workforce or cut back on services.

The real issue is why.

What makes the shortcomings of this budget unforgivable? The lack of courage shown by legislative leaders in just about every corner of the state Capitol.
At the risk of oversimplification, one specific example of cowardly budget-making deserves to be dragged out into the public square now that the budget’s shortcomings are being made manifest by this week’s layoffs:

The failure of this Legislature to pass an extraction tax on natural gas.
In one of the only states in the country that does not have a tax on natural gas extraction, in a state where drilling permits in the mammoth Marcellus Shale bed more than tripled this past year, Pennsylvania lawmakers could not find the political will to do the right thing.

Instead, they tried to pass a tax on theater tickets and museum entry fees. (!!!)

At a PennFuture conference last week, four legislators could not tell when or why the gas tax was turned into a tax on "Tinkerbell," said state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York.

For the record, Gov. Ed Rendell took the tax off the table in August, saying it had been effectively off the table all year thanks to the GOP and its pledge to slash and burn the state budget into balance.

How much opportunity do ExxonMobil and other multi-billion-dollar energy companies have at their disposal in Pennsylvania? PennFuture said "one company alone has identified 3,900 potential drilling sites in southwestern Pennsylvania."

Yet, the time wasn’t right for Pennsylvania lawmakers to tax this booming industry.

"That tax should have been enacted. There wasn’t any good policy reason that it wasn’t. The tax should have been enacted instead of state lands being leased," said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware.
Not only did the gas lobby successfully hoodwink lawmakers into the self-serving premise that taxing gas extraction would cripple an emerging industry and cost Pennsylvania jobs and opportunity, but legislative leaders actually opened more state land for gas drill leasing.

The cost of all this, besides acres of irreplaceable state parks and water quality in those fracture-crazed parts of our commonwealth, are a few hundred jobs.
The DEP is losing 138 of 2,737 workers, or 5 percent of its total. The state secretary of administration announced Monday that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is to lose 85 of its 250 workers.

But there will be drilling.
For the complete commentary, CLICK HERE.


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