From a century-old school building in South Philadelphia Thursday, Gov. Wolf promoted his plan to repair the state’s aging infrastructure and fund emergency relief. Paying for it involves a “modest” tax on natural gas extraction.
Wolf launched the campaign ahead of his budget address last month. The Restore Pennsylvania initiative would invest $4.5 billion in initiatives from bonds, from increasing broadband internet access to funding repairs after natural disasters, paid for over time with $300 million annually in severance taxes.
Wolf wants to give Philadelphia $100 million to remove lead paint from the school buildings and other capital improvements. He reminded those gathered at Taggart Elementary that Pennsylvanians already pay severance taxes – for other states.
“We’re paying for the schools, and the bridges, and the roads in Texas and Alaska,” he said. Pennsylvania is the only gas producing state that doesn’t charge a severance tax. Critics of such a tax contend the state’s impact fee, along with its corporate net income tax, produce sufficient revenues from the industry already.
Philadelphia and the state teamed up to give the school district $15.6 million last year to remove lead paint from some schools. More needs to be done to prevent further lead poisoning of students.
Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) served as host in his district. He supports the plan.
“This program would make key improvements to our infrastructure now, when we need it – not ten years from now, not five years from now,” he said. “We cannot continue with the aging infrastructure Pennsylvania and specifically Philadelphia has in regard to our schools.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) suggested the tax the governor suggested is “modest” and lower than what he and his colleagues in the Senate might propose. He talked about visiting schools across the state with Farnese and seeing the need for improvements. The schools’ infrastructure is the second-largest in the state, behind transportation.
“Everyone in this room has contributed their fair share, this industry has not contributed their fair share,” Hughes said in comparing the gas producers to local stakeholders in education. “The uniqueness in this proposal is that he’s not asking the money to come to the state’s budget, he’s asking for it to be invested in every aspect of the state’s economy, to build it up, especially those aspects are the most struggling.”
Wolf also wants to support funding for disasters that don’t qualify for federal relief. He thinks by separating the plan and tax from the budget it will draw more bipartisan support. Wolf believed the tax had the bipartisan support two years ago but it never got a vote in the House.
The proposed legislation does have Republican co-sponsors in Sen Thomas Killion (Delaware) and Thomas Murt (Montgomery). Further GOP support, however, doesn’t seem imminent.
Jennifer Kocher, spokesperson for Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) responded with a statement that read in part: “We know that working to ensure a stable infrastructure in our Commonwealth is vital to continuing to improve the state’s economy. Policies that rely on increased borrowing and taxing job creators are troubling because of the likelihood of stifling the state’s economic growth, suffocating the climate for job creation and deterring employers from choosing Pennsylvania.”
PA Legislative Service