Democrats, moderate Republicans finding new path for Pa. shale tax

Natural gas severance tax proponents say going through new committee could be breakthrough in Pennsylvania legislature.

A man in a tan jacket and blue tie, the American flag off to the left

Pennsylvania state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, supports a severance tax on natural gas. (AP file photo)

Pennsylvania lawmakers might be close to a bipartisan agreement that gets a natural gas severance tax to the House floor.

Similar efforts have failed repeatedly over the last several years — and as recently as this month. But a slightly friendlier committee might make this time different.

Most House severance tax bills end up in the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which is stacked with conservative Republicans who tend to oppose tax hikes or new taxes.

But the bill currently under consideration — sponsored by moderate Bucks County Republican Rep. Gene DiGirolamo — amends the tax code, so it went to the House Finance Committee instead.

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DiGirolamo said committee chairman Rep. Bernie O’Neill, also a Bucks Republican, has been working steadily to get votes together.

“They’ve been working on this all week, and over the weekend,” he said. “Chairman O’Neill tells me they’re close to having an agreement, and I’m going to take his word for it.”

DiGirolamo said he thinks a vote is possible in a day or two.

“The main sticking point,” he said, “is leaving the impact fee in place. The tax rate is another little bit of a sticking point.”

Similar disagreements have effectively halted severance tax bills in the past.

The current form of the bill would levy a 3.2 percent tax on natural gas drillers, on top of an existing impact fee. That’s significantly higher than a severance tax the Senate passed months ago, and DiGirolamo projects it’ll raise $350 million to $400 million per year.

He and others who support a severance tax maintain that if the bill gets to the House floor, it’ll pass.

But House GOP Leader Dave Reed said, if that happens, it wouldn’t be guaranteed to get a floor vote anytime soon.

“There’s a whole bunch of bills that people want to see voted yesterday,” Reed said. “It’ll go on the voting schedule, just like anything else.”

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