Philly region Republicans weigh in on severance tax, budget deadlock

 Pa. Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, holds mailings which she says unfairly depict her views on the state budget. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Pa. Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, holds mailings which she says unfairly depict her views on the state budget. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Sweating under the mid-day sun, nine Republican lawmakers from southeast Pennsylvania took Gov. Tom Wolf to task on the steps of Montgomery County Courthouse for what they called “campaign” tactics during budget negotiations.

As the state’s budget deadlock stretches into its fourth week, the governor’s administration and Republican legislators are each engaging in a campaign to sway public opinion about spending. In an unusual move, relatively moderate republicans in Philadelphia suburbs called out the Governor for messaging they say isn’t fair.

At issue were mail, television and radio ads paid for by a political action committee called America Works. According to Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware County), who is also the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, the total cost of these ads is between $750,000 and $1 million.

“I resent coming home every week and seeing nothing but campaign style literature,” said Adolph of the ads, which started in June.

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Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery County) hosted the event with Sen. John Rafferty (R-Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties) , Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware County), Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery County), Rep. Thomas Quigley (R-Montgomery County), Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery County), Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery County), Rep. James Santora (R-Delaware County) and Rep. Thomas Killion (R-Delaware County).

The lawmakers took the opportunity to sally forth into their own criticisms of the governor’s budget and what they characterized as inflexibility in his negotiations.

“I’ll say to [to Gov. Wolf] the same thing I say to my three-year-old when he has a temper tantrum,” said Stephens. “When you’re ready to have a rational discussion, I’ll be right here and and we can work together to solve the problem.”

Spokesman Jeff Sheridan from Wolf’s office said he is willing to make concessions and it’s the leaders of the Republican caucuses who have not been meeting in the middle. According to Sheridan, the mail, radio and television ads have nothing to do with the Wolf administration and that Republican political groups use similar tactics against the governor.

However, Sheridan said the content of the mailers does accurately reflects how local lawmakers voting records.

“When they’re home, representatives in the Philadelphia area pretend they support education funding and they pretend they support making oil and gas companies pay their fair share,” he said. “But when they’re back in Harrisburg, they vote completely opposite of what they say back home and fall in line with their Republican leaders, particularly Mike Turzai.”

Behind the negative comments from both sides are glimmers of a compromise, particularly around the governor’s proposal for a severance tax on shale gas.

Wolf made a statement in Beaver County this week that he is willing to compromise on his proposed five percent severance tax. Last week, Senate Majority leader Jake Corman also said he is willing to consider a shale tax, although not in the form proposed by the governor. House speaker Turzai (R-Marshall) continues to oppose any tax on gas drilling.

Several local Republican lawmakers also said a tax is on the table at the press conference.

“I’ve never been against a reasonable severance tax,” said Rep. Kate Harper. “I don’t think my caucus generally favors it, but I think if you want to do something in a bipartisan fashion and you get all the Democrats on board and a bunch of suburban Republicans then you get to ‘yes’ on that one.”

However, other taxes like a sales tax on certain services, including assisted living services and daycare are still hard to swallow said Harper. She said instead of talking about politics, the debate in Harrisburg should be “what taxes to the Pennsylvanians we represent feel ok with us raising.”

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