Bipartisan-supported severance tax bill stays stalled in Pa.

A red and white drilling rig justts out in the background behind a line of trees. Farmland and grass, a silo and cows in the foreground

Taxing natural gas could get the state several hundred million dollars closer to balancing this year's budget, but the concept is controversial. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

The fight over how to fund Pennsylvania’s overdue budget is boiling down to just a few points of contention — including whether to impose a new tax on natural gas drillers.

A bipartisan coalition of House members is backing the severance tax — a version of which has been approved by the Senate. But the bill is having a hard time making it to the House floor for a full vote.

Kate Harper, a moderate Republican from Montgomery County, is sponsoring the proposal that’s been at the center of extensive political maneuvering.

Recently, it was gutted in committee and replaced with language that would merely rename an existing drilling impact fee a “severance tax.”

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Harper wanted the modified plan to pass a committee vote anyway, because once on the floor, she could re-amend it back to her original language, which would tax drillers at five percent, including the impact fee already in effect.

But the meeting to re-hear the bill was canceled Monday.

Harper wasn’t told why, but said she has a guess: House Speaker Mike Turzai opposes it.

“I would say the speaker has a powerful ability to determine what gets called for a vote,” she said. “He doesn’t want the severance tax called for a vote.”

The chair of the committee that canceled the hearing didn’t return a request for comment.

Harper said she’s confident a majority of the House would support her bill if it got to the floor. But a majority of Republicans probably wouldn’t, so the party is split on what to do — right up to the leadership level.

“I think some of [the leaders] see that we’re going to need a severance tax to get this budget done, and some of them see the severance tax as completely unacceptable,” Harper said.

Several resolutions are circulating that could force the bill onto the floor, committee vote or not.

But Harper noted that GOP leaders — who control the calendar — could just push it back into a different committee, and essentially keep it from being voted on indefinitely.

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