When it came time to fix his state’s $4 billion budget deficit, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) steadfastly refused to raise new revenues, even through a tax on natural gas extraction, despite the fact that Pennsylvania is the only major gas producer that does not tax its use.
Instead of taxing fracking, a dangerous technique that fractures the ground to extract natural gas, or closing other tax loopholes, Corbett proposed eliminating $1 billion from the state’s education budget. Corbett’s cuts to education were so drastic that he was was overruled by his own party in the state House, which returned $600 million in funding. To offset the restoration of education funding, state Republicans proposed cuts that would negatively impact low-income Pennsylvanians.
But now, the state Senate has passed an extraction fee on natural gas drilling — the first of its kind in the state. However, Corbett said yesterday that he would veto any fiscal plan that includes a tax or even an impact fee on natural gas extraction, preferring to wait for a study on the matter to be released:
“I think it’s more important to come up with a good policy rather than jamming one through under budget-deadline pressures,” Corbett said.
This veto threat puts him at odds with members of his own party in the legislature and comes despite the fee’s potential to raise more than $310 million over the next two years.
So why has Corbett adamantly opposed taxing the natural gas industry? One reason could be the massive amount of campaign contributions the industry has given the governor. Pennsylvania has no individual campaign finance limits, which has helped the industry donate more than $1,042,116 to Corbett’s campaign for governor and $361,207 to Corbett while he was the state’s attorney general.
Corbett has already repaid the industry by lifting a moratorium on new natural gas drilling on public lands, and by requiring his office’s approval before any regulations against natural gas companies can be enforced. Now, he would rather cut $500 million in education funding and eliminate health care coverage for 100,000 low income Pennsylvanian’s than tax the industry. He even suggested that public universities should pay for themselves by allowing natural gas drilling on their campuses.
Corbett’s support from the natural gas industry was a significant campaign issue, with his Democratic opponent saying, “He will defend their profits and not do anything for taxpayers.” Throughout the campaign, however, Corbett said he was “not beholden to any” of his donors. But now it seems that Corbett would rather side with his donors from natural gas companies than his states’ students, poor, and those who will be impacted by increased gas drilling.