GOP, Democrats still at odds on Pa. natural gas tax

    To get around impasse, House speaker suggests the Senate insert new tax language into one of two energy bills the House has already passed.

    The Pennsylvania Senate’s top Republican said Tuesday afternoon the chances for a natural gas severance tax bill were diminishing by the hour. Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said Republicans and Democrats were “worlds apart” on a compromise severance tax.

    “We continue to negotiate in good faith. We have lived up to our intent,” said Scarnati. “And it’s just unfortunate that we have a flawed vehicle that has come from the House with a tax rate that, quite frankly, might just as well have been a moratorium bill to drive the industry out of the state. Maybe that was their intent.”

    Even if a deal is reached, he said,the Senate may be legally barred from voting on the House bill he says violates Pennsylvania’s constitution.

    House Speaker Keith McCall conceded that Scarnati may be right about the measure’s viability, but offered another solution. He suggested the Senate insert new tax language into one of two energy bills the House has already passed.

    “They have a lot of very smart people over there. They know how to craft and put together amendments to the two bills we have over there that will, in fact, pass constitutional muster,” said McCall. “This is a delay, a dodging tactic to put this issue off.”

    Governor Ed Rendell agreed, calling Scarnati’s stance a “red herring.”

    Senate Republican leaders met with Rendell Tuesday morning to negotiate a compromise rate between the House bill’s 39 cents per thousand cubic feet and the initial 1.5 percent tax proposed by Scarnati’s staff.

    Rendell says he’s working on a compromise tax that bridges the gap between the House and Senate’s preferred tax rates, but he isn’t revealing many details about the new plan.

    The Senate has until Thursday to pass a bill.

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