Governor Ed Rendell will be in Mechanicsburg later this morning to sign Pennsylvania's $28.05 billion budget for the fiscal year that started Thursday. Following that he will travel to Towanda, Bradford County to discuss the agreement to vote in October on a Marcellus Shale gas extraction tax. Leaders have just about agreed on taxing gas extraction but the percentage and how the revenues would be distributed among the state, host municipalities and environmental programs have not been resolved.
The budget includes cuts in funding for the Department of Agriculture, libraries and parks. A top environmental advocate says cuts to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are “worrisome.” PennFuture president Jan Jarrett says she’s more troubled by the nearly $10 million dollars trimmed from the DCNR budget than the $13.8 million eliminated from the DEP budget, since the latter agency receives significant support from the federal government.
Jarrett says she’s worried DCNR staffers won’t be able to adequately monitor natural gas drilling in the state forests, after a 30 percent reduction in Bureau of Forestry funding.
House Speaker Keith McCall says lawmakers will restore some of that environmental funding with revenue from a natural gas severance tax, but Jarrett is skeptical.
"What we have right now – we don’t have a severance tax. We’ve got a promise. First of all, the promise has got to be fulfilled on October 1. And secondly, the devil will be in the details, in terms of how much the state can expect from that – in the rate and the structure of the tax are going to be very important."
Governor Rendell says funding for DEP’s drilling inspectors remained untouched.