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With critical issues at hand, lawmakers face election hurdle

September 21, 2010

As state House and Senate members head back to Harrisburg in this election year, the hot issues confronting them continue to be transportation funding and a possible Marcellus Shale severance tax.

The question is: Will those and other issues get serious consideration?

"I think we are much more likely to see advancement of the Marcellus severance than the transportation proposal," said state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro.

Article Photos

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette
Work is complete on the coffer dam for the first pier, right, as workers from Susquehanna Supply begin on the frame work for the coffer dam for the second pier, left, for the new DuBoistown Bridge Monday. Once the second coffer dam is in place and excavated, work will begin on the bridge piers.

Transportation funding has been a priority of lawmakers since the rejection of Interstate 80 tolling, but with the Legislature in session only a matter of weeks this fall, it may be difficult for the issue to be settled.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said he would be surprised to see either transportation or the severance tax get done.

"I would think if we got either of those things done, they would be pretty major accomplishments," he said.

That doesn't dismiss the importance of either issue.

One potential problem with the severance tax, he said, is if it's introduced by the Senate as one piece of legislation that includes other aspects of gas drilling.

Everett said drilling issues need to be discussed more openly with the public before major pieces of legislation involving it are introduced.

He continues, he said, to be against a severance tax that doesn't include windfalls for local municipalities where drilling occurs.

Meanwhile, an Oct. 1 date looms for coming up with some sort of severance tax.

"The majority caucuses of both houses made a commitment that they would do something about a Marcellus severance tax," he added.

Everett and Baker said the Senate has made it clear it will not meet after the November election, which will make it even harder to consider many issues.

Considering Gov. Ed Rendell will be in lame-duck status, and it's an election year for many lawmakers, inaction could be the order of the day until January, Baker noted.

"Every lawmaker is in a different situation," Everett said. "If you are from an area where you have a tough race, you may give pause to make certain votes one way or the other."

Baker noted that many lawmakers will be opposed to transportation funding that includes massive tax increases.

State Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, struck a more hopeful tone regarding legislative activity this fall.

"Actually, I think there will be some things that get done," he said.

In addition to possible movement with regard to the severance tax, and transportation, it's quite possible legislators might move on the state public pension system, he said.

Statewide, school districts and municipalities face mounting financial problems in upcoming years to help finance the pensions.

"I really think the climate is right," Yaw said.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said it's hard to know one way or the other if issues such as the severance tax and transportation funding will be resolved this fall.

He acknowledged that any severance bill involving too many other gas drilling components may not be the way to go.

"There may be a need for legislation that protects landowners," he added.

He explained that many property owners who signed gas leases have contacted his office about not being treated fairly by the gas companies.

But it's doubtful, he said, that such legislation would be considered this fall, given the few days lawmakers will be in Harrisburg.

He conceded that an election year may stymie some legislation that might otherwise get done.

Still, there exist pressing matters to consider.

"One way or another, we are going to have to deal with these transportation issues because they are not going to go away," he said. "Roads and bridges need to be fixed and be safe for motorists. It's in the public's interest."

 
 
 

 

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