Post-Gazette’s Brian O’Neill: Lawmakers slow to understand this drill

Maybe you can figure this one out.

The state government is broke. Again. The red ink reached $1.23 billion at the end of last month, and this could be the eighth straight year our oversized Legislature fails to pass a budget by the June 30 deadline.

We may finally catch a small break, though. Pennsylvania is sitting on a fortune in natural gas. All the other states with natural gas drilling — Texas, Alaska and Oklahoma prominent among them — have a gas extraction tax, as does our neighbor, West Virginia.

Some reasonable tax is overdue here in Pennsylvania, so the Legislature is sure to pass one this year, right?

Not on your autographed picture of BP boss Tony Hayward.

I tuned in PCN the other day to watch the state House debate this issue. Gov. Ed Rendell has advocated a 5 percent tax like West Virginia’s, which would put us in the middle of the pack among states with an extraction tax.

Democratic leaders upped the proposed tax to 8 percent of the value at the drill site and 8 cents per 1,000 cubic feet extracted. But Republicans were wary of imposing any tax on this so-called “new industry.” (News flash: We’ve been drilling for fossil fuels in Pennsylvania since 1859.)

Some Democrats differed with their leaders, too, on how to structure the tax and how to split the revenue among the state’s general fund, its environmental protection arm and local governments. So they kicked the entire tax package back to the Appropriations Committee.

Before they did, though, Democratic Rep. “Teflon Bill” DeWeese, of Greene County, had some fun chiding the Republicans about how the home states of George Bush and Sarah Palin don’t have any problem with this kind of tax.

“I have to think if it’s good enough for Sarah,” Mr. DeWeese said, “it’s good enough for us.”

Read the rest in the Post-Gazette

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