Democrats try again for natural gas tax in Pennsylvania

    Supporters of a natural gas severance tax aren’t giving up, despite the measure’s slim chances of becoming law in Pennsylvania this year.

    Democrats couldn’t pass a tax on Marcellus Shale drilling when they controlled the House and governor’s office, and Republican leaders have said they won’t support a levy. But a group of Democrats has introduced another measure, similar to the 5 percent tax Gov. Ed Rendell supported last year.

    At a press conference introducing the new bill, Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach reiterated a well-worn argument for the tax.

    “People say, you know, well – in other contexts, if you raise the tax you’re going to drive the business out,” he said. “First of all, every other state has a tax, so where are they going to go? No. 1. No. 2: the energy is here. They have to be here if they’re going to get it out of our ground.”

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    House Democrat Greg Vitali outlined the bill’s frame: “We have essentially a West Virginia – slightly less than West Virginia’s rate of tax. The distribution scheme is very straightforward. It’s one-third to the general fund, one-third to environmental purposes. Specifically, 29 percent of that – 29 percent of the whole – to Growing Greener. And one-third to local government,” he said.

    Talk in the Republican-controlled Senate has turned to an “impact fee” on drilling, which would only fund local communities. No specific fee bill has been introduced.

    Gov. Tom Corbett is planning to appoint a panel to look into drilling safety and oversight issues, but hasn’t announced its members yet.

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