Corbett's Cuts In Ag And Education Totally Unnecessary

Nor' east Thinkin'

Natural gas severance tax would largely absolve Pennsylvania's budget pains

Published on: March 21, 2011

Corbett's Cuts Totally Unnecessary

Natural gas severance tax would largely absolve Pennsylvania's budget pains

 This week, most of you will receive April’s American Agriculturist issue. My “Food for Thought” column raises the question: Who ill-advised Pennsylvania's guv?

The question centered around Governor Tom Corbett's proposed 2011-12 budget cuts and his opposition to raising revenues via a natural gas severance tax on energy companies tapping the state's natural gas reserves.

Since I wrote that column (a month ago), major state newspapers have answered my question. Despite broad public support for a severance tax, the governor remains opposed.

He essentially has given energy companies a $1.4-million license to steal tax revenues that every other major gas-bearing state receives. That’s the tally of contributions to Corbett’s gubernatorial election campaign by coal and energy companies, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Corbett’s newly formed 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is loaded with 13 people with ties to the energy industry. Yes, the gas industry must partner in developing the Marcellus gas field – along with representatives of agriculture, conservation, environment and local government.

But those 13 persons and people closely associated with them not-so-coincidentally contributed more than $1.4 million to Corbett’s campaigns since 2008. Twelve have ties with companies whose executives or political action committees contributed another $562,000. One is the son of a $300,000 contributor.

And, C. Alan Walker, Corbett’s choice to head the Department of Community and Economic Development is a former coal company executive. He contributed $106,607 to Corbett’s campaign, according to the news sources.

Why it's a travesty

It's just Pennsylvania politics as usual, right? Unfortunately, it's much more than that. It'll cost Pennsylvanians dearly.

As I mentioned in my editorial, foregoing the natural gas severance tax means millions in lost revenue while the commonwealth is floundering in red ink. The previous Rendell Administration estimated that a 6.2% tax would have raised $161 million in 2010-11 and reach $475 million by 2014-15. 

Corbett is trying to balance his proposed 2011-12 budget by drastically cutting state support of education, as well as many programs important to agriculture. That’s the travesty.

Cuts in state support of education come back to haunt local taxpayers. Many school systems will be forced to raise taxes and/or cut staff due to that shortfall.

Corbett's proposed 52% funding cut for Penn State University would slash close to $29 million from ag research and Cooperative Extension. This, after a number of years of skinnied-down funding. Visit http://bit.ly/fio8TI to view a document provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences, describing the impacts of the proposed cuts.

Corbett's cuts, if accepted by the legislature, will have a devastating impact on agriculture. And if your children or grandchildren hope to attend Penn State, plan on stashing a lot more cash into their college fund. Tuition costs will rise substantially in the next two years. 

All this needless pain and aggravation for what – to keep the energy industry in the back pocket of the governor and well-chosen legislators. So make sure you know where your local representatives stand on the severance tax and the educational cuts – and vote accordingly.

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