Inquirer Editorial: Gas impact fee falls short

Gov. Corbett
Gov. Corbett
Posted: October 21, 2011

Here's another sign that Gov. Corbett's Marcellus Shale drillers' fee idea isn't ready for prime time: Counties hosting gas drilling rigs may have to wait a year to see their first dollar in revenue from the governor's proposed impact fee.

In addition, it looks as if there aren't nearly enough gas-producing wells yet to generate the $120 million that Corbett expects from his levy in the first year.

Not only would Harrisburg be letting drillers get off without paying a type of tax imposed by every other major drilling state, but even aid meant to cover gas-related impacts could be undercut.

That means less money for environmental safeguards, highway and bridge repairs, emergency response, pipeline safety, and health studies on the dangers of the controversial hydraulic-fracturing drilling process.

The delay in getting funds to the 26 counties with gas-producing wells - mostly in the west and across the state's northern tier - would stem from the timetable for getting the fee in place, according to a state and county officials' trade group.

Even that could vary from county to county, since Corbett - hewing to his unworkable no-tax pledge - would foist off onto county officials the actual task of voting to impose the local impact fee.

Were state officials able to tweak the timetable for Corbett's plan, and perhaps see greater revenue yields as more wells came on line, the fee still would raise only one-fifth of what an actual extraction tax would provide.

Given the doubts about Corbett's business-friendly approach to drillers, it's time for state lawmakers from both parties to chart their own course.

At a minimum, drillers should be made to pay a greater share toward supporting critical statewide fiscal needs. The governor's modest fee would reserve only 25 cents on the dollar for those purposes, while education, welfare, and other aid needs go begging in the state budget.

An extraction fee along the lines of the nearly $500 million proposal from state Reps. Thomas Murt (R., Montgomery) and Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) is the better way to go.

If legislators can't win over the governor to that cause, they must be prepared to enact the statewide shale tax that two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support - and then be ready to override a likely gubernatorial veto.

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