Gov. Tom Corbett may be seeking opinions from his shale commission whether the state Senate-proposed drilling impact fee is a tax, but the group whose no-tax pledge he signed has issued its decree: it breaks the pledge.
“Make no mistake, this proposal is a tax increase based on any honest and objective analysis,” Norquist wrote in a letter to Sen. Mary Jo White, whose committee would need to approve the impact fee, and other lawmakers.
“As such, a vote in favor of Senate Bill 1100 also represents a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a commitment which Gov. Corbett and 34 members of the legislature have made to their constituents to impose any and all efforts to raise taxes.”
That’s bad news for Corbett, whose talks with lawmakers over the next month on the state spending plan will include negotiating with a top Senate Republican, Joe Scarnati, who wants an impact fee passed with the budget.
The governor, who opposes a gas severance tax, so far has been punting on whether he’d consider an impact fee that sends most of the revenues to local governments and zero to the state operating budget. He wants his Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission to issue a recommendation on the issue in its July 22 report.
His spokesman, Kevin Harley, says that means no impact fee with the state budget. "He's been very clear - the budget is June 30, and the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission won't be ready until mid-July," Harley said.
When Scarnati first explained his plan, Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley declined to say whether Corbett thought it would break his no-tax pledge. The ATR pledge doesn’t specifically include fees, though Corbett did say at times during the campaign that he viewed it as including both taxes and fees.
Asked about Norquist's comment, Harley again said the governor is waiting on his panel before making up his mind about that proposal or any other potential fee that they might recommend. Administration staffers are reviewing Scarnati's proposal, he added.
A total of 34 state lawmakers - 30 in the House, and four in the Senate - have signed the ATR pledge. Here's the list of which lawmakers signed on (none of them are on the Senate panel where the impact fee bill currently sits.)
So what happens now? The state House last night sent the Senate a tax-free budget, leaving Scarnati and other senators to ponder whether to up the ante of budget talks and insist on an impact fee.
UPDATE: Scarnati, who also received Norquist’s missive, has responded with the letter below. He defends his legislative track record, saying he’s been “a constant guardian against the spend-and-tax philosophy,” and lists four reasons why he believes the impact fee is not a tax.
Scarnati also asks Norquist to talk to Range, Chesapeake and other major shale drillers, who he says view it as “a welcomed proposal.”
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