As the Pennsylvania State House considers a tax on natural gas extraction passed by the state Senate, education advocates are pressing for the levy while business leaders are warning it’s a bad idea.
At a rally in front of a North Philadelphia school Tuesday morning, activists, union leaders and Democratic elected officials urged lawmakers to complete what is now a years-long quest for a Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction tax.
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym said the failure to enact an extraction tax in recent years has contributed to chronic underfunding of Pennsylvania schools.
“Is it fair to have kids at Richard Wright [elementary school] and all across Philadelphia go to schools where we don’t guarantee arts and music?” Gym said. “We’ve got a 5-year-old in Kensington who walks by a darkened library, eager to read, but that library’s closed because we’re not funding librarians in Pennsylvania.”
Gym was joined by Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, several state lawmakers, and Angela Masceri, a fifth-grade teacher.
Many of the speakers targeted Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, who is widely expected to run for governor next year. He’s strongly resisted tax increases to resolve the state budget.
Spokesman Steve Miskin said Turzai has heard plenty of arguments for a shale tax.
“These spending advocates seem to think that it’s a panacea that’s going to solve all the problems,” Miskin said.
Revenue from the tax would cover only a small fraction of the budget gap, Miskin said, so other measures — including spending cuts — are needed. But, he said, the shale tax will get due consideration and will not be ruled out.
Also Tuesday, a group of business leaders led by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry held a conference call with reporters to urge defeat of the tax.
They said higher energy costs would be a drag on the state’s economy, costing jobs and tax revenue.
Terry Fitzpatrick, president of a trade group of electric and gas utilities, said that apart from the extraction tax, he was troubled by a new tax on natural gas utility bills and an increase in taxes on home electric bills.
“It’s not transparent,” Fitzpatrick said. “Customers are going to see costs of state government on their utility bills instead of their tax bills,” adding that the new taxes aren’t a fair way of distributing the burdens of state government.
Miskin said legislative leaders and members of the State House are studying the measures approved by the Senate and developing ideas of their own, but there’s no timetable for action.
“We are trying to bring this thing to a resolution,” he said.