Governor Tom Corbett is showing a bit of flexibility on the issue of whether he’d support imposing an impact fee on natural gas drillers.
Corbett’s answer to a hypothetical question at a Capitol press conference wasn’t exactly the sound of concrete cracking around his feet, but it was the most public sign to-date the anti-tax Republican might be open to a fee designating money for local governments. “I would have to see what they would propose, and where the money would go,” he said. “Money just to the general fund? No. Money to the locals? Money to the county? I’d sit down and listen to them.”
While Corbett’s campaign position papers support dedicating fee money for communities impacted by drilling, he’s been dead-set against any sort of severance tax directing money to state government since taking office. This month, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley told the Post Gazette “no means no,” when asked whether the Marcellus Shale Commission would take a look at a fee.
Senate Republicans want to pay for infrastructure costs and environmental protection efforts through a fee, though a specific bill has yet to be introduced. Drew Crompton, the chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, says the caucus is “encouraged” by Corbett’s recent comments, and looks forward to discussions with the administration on what the fee could look like.
Corbett said he “understands there’s an impact,” and that it needs to be addressed. “Many of the companies are already doing that. Many of the companies are out there rebuilding the roads. And they’re doing it – from what I’m hearing anecdotally – better than the local communities or PennDOT would rebuild the road,” he said. “That would be one consideration of how that’s done through the private sector. I do think we need to address the impact. I want to see what the Marcellus Commission comes up with first.”
One potential roadblock: Corbett said he won’t support a fee directing any money into the state’s coffers, but some of the efforts Senate Republicans want to fund through the fee are, in fact, state programs. “We…believe that a portion of the money should be used for Growing Greener, for cleanup projects, perhaps for hazardous site cleanups,” said Crompton. “There’s a variety of environmental concerns that could be very important recipient – or important recipients of any local impact fee.”
What happens next? Corbett’s commission holds its first hearing Friday. Crompton doesn’t expect a Senate bill to be introduced anytime soon. Instead, work on a fee will continue, for now, behind closed doors. “At this point the burden is on us to develop a model that we think is an appropriate model, a sensible model, and one that we can then present not just to the governor’s office but to the other caucuses for their consideration,” he said.