State leaders State leaders seeking a budget fall guy, pick energy industry

Desperate to close a $2.2 billion revenue gap in an overdue $32 billion budget for 2017-18, the state Senate has advanced a unique proposal on to the state House.

The Senate has approved a drilling tax on the natural gas industry. In return, the state is promising an expedited permitting process on new drilling activity.

In other words, the state and the industry both get something they have wanted for a long time.

As expected, business groups are pushing back against the proposal, claiming the increased energy taxes will hurt the industry’s competitive standing, trigger higher bills for consumers and frighten away investment.

All that is probably true. What’s also true is that the state has a budget shortfall that needs to be solved – like yesterday.

We understand that it may be time for a modest severance tax on the gas industry in Pennsylvania in addition to the existing impact fee. Much of the $1.2 billion that has been generated by the impact fee since 2012 has been distributed to communities hosting the industry.

These revenue generating solutions would be easier to swallow if it was obvious the state’s leadership had done everything possible to limit the budget’s expense side of $32 billion, which is about 40 percent more than a decade ago. We are very skeptical of that and we hold multiple parties responsible for the budget’s size.

But the state does need to get a budget in place before it teeters on bankruptcy.

However, when consumers are receiving higher energy bills a year from now, they need to let lawmakers, not the business, know about their unhappiness. Loose spending – not a greedy energy industry – is the culprit.

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