Budget, severance tax, opioid issues on lawmakers’ agendas

The continued push for a natural gas severance tax and safeguards against opioid addiction may well be taken up in the state Legislature this year.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said Friday he’s working on at least two pieces of legislation that would put further limits on access to prescription painkillers.

The opioid issue, he said, is a bipartisan one, that could very well find support among lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.

“They (bills) are not controversial,” he said. “The governor has helped me before. Hopefully, we can make that happen.”

Yaw said another major issue of concern is the Chesapeake Bay.

Legislation to prevent further damage to the bay from runoff from streams and agricultural operations is needed, he said.

Fertilizers used in agriculture often contain the three basic plant nutrients–nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium–which may enter streams creating sources of nonpoint pollution.

Yet another bill Yaw hopes to push is one recognizing the Hellbender as the state amphibian.

“Hellbenders live in streams where water is pure and clean,” Yaw said. “It’s a natural indicator of good water.”

The lawmaker conceded that some might scoff at such a piece of legislation, but it can send a message for cleaner streams.

“Some people think it is frivolous,” he said. “Virtually every environmental organization supports it. It’s the symbolism that goes with it.”

Yaw said he expected the severance tax to receive a push once again, although he continues to oppose it.

“That has been his (governor’s) marquee tax since he took office,” he said.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, agreed.

“I still think there is going to be a severance tax push, which I am opposed to,” he said. “It’s an additional tax on that industry.”

Wheeland explained that those revenues, unlike the state impact fee, do not come back to the municipalities and counties where the drilling for natural gas takes place.

Yaw said passage of a state budget may not be such an easy task, despite healthy revenue projections.

He pointed to a possible fight regarding a pending lawsuit calling for property tax fairness and equalization.

“The lawsuit says there are some inequalities. I don’t know how you ever equalize the funding,” he said.

Wheeland said lawmakers will certainly be focused on the budget over the coming months.

The lawmaker said he’d like to advocate for additional dollars for the state’s rainy day fund as a buffer against downturns in the economy.

“Just as sure as the sun will come up, we will have a recession,” he said.

He’d also like to use more money to fund the state’s pension obligations.

“We got to dig ourselves out of that hole,” he said.

At any rate, Wheeland said there will certainly be people and groups fighting to get every dollar from the state budget they can.

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