Even foe anticipates fee on Pa. gas drilling

    Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith does not support a local impact fee on natural gas drilling. He seems apathetic to the idea at best. But, speaking to the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg Monday afternoon, he predicted the General Assembly will pass some sort of levy on drillers this year.

    After a lengthy filibuster on whether he supports the bill authored by his former roommate, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, Smith said, “the political realities of how the House and Senate shape up would suggest that something will happen on that issue in the very near future, whether that means the next two months, month and a half, or on the governor’s timeline. But I believe something will be resolved on that.” Gov. Tom Corbett wants a fee vote after his Marcellus Shale Commission’s late July report, but Scarnati is pushing for the bill to become law by the end of June.

    Smith says the major factor will be where the fee money goes. Right now, the Senate measure directs funding to local governments, environmental protection efforts and infrastructure projects. He also dismissed polls showing overwhelming public support for a full tax on drillers. “People have always been willing to tax the other guy, and that’s an industry is perceived as the other guy,” he reasoned. “So I don’t jump – get too excited about how the polls read, because the same polls will say, increase spending for this, but don’t tax me on that.”

    On the overall budget, Smith resisted the idea of directing all or part of a $503 million tax surplus into next year’s spending plan.

    “[Republicans are] trying to avoid the ‘let’s spend every penny we can possibly get our hands on’ mentality,” he said. “…Moving forward with caution to allow for reliability and predictability in the program funding.” That being said, the Jefferson County lawmaker left the door open to a budget spending more than $27.3 billion, if analysts can show this year’s surplus is part of a long-term trend. He explained,

    “If the budget secretary and the governor’s office revise their revenue estimate once we get past the May numbers, and when they look at whatever the other economic projections are for forecasting the numbers for next year, certainly we would be open-minded” to a more expensive budget, he explained.

    Both Corbett and Smith’s majority leader, Mike Turzai, are dead-set against spending more than $27.3 billion. Smith’s comments put him more in line with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who’s open to using the surplus money to augment education cuts.

    The House began debate on its budget Monday afternoon, and will likely pass the bill by the end of the week.

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