A local lawmaker predicted the Marcellus Shale will be a principle topic of discussion and debate this fall when the state Legislature goes back into session.
Central to that discussion, said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, will be the issue of an impact fee on gas drillers.
Assessing drillers for the impacts created in local communities with the revenues going back to those municipalities as opposed to a state severance tax makes the most sense, Everett maintained.
L. LEE JANSSEN/Sun-Gazette
A Sun-Gazette reporter takes notes Tuesday as state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, explains his view on the superiority of an impact fee to a severance tax on natural gas drilling and his prediction calls for tolling Interstate 80 will go nowhere at the Sun-Gazette’s office on West Fourth Street.
And it's a concept embraced by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Everett, who met with the Sun-Gazette editorial staff Tuesday, said he'd like to see stronger environmental regulations in the drilling industry.
Toward that end, he's calling for expanding the distances from a well for presumed liability of impaired water quality caused by drilling.
He's also for stiffer penalties for various environmental violations.
A severance tax on drillers long has been opposed by many Republicans including Everett, who argue that the revenues would end up going back to the state's coffers rather than to the local municipalities.
"Severance taxes sound very attractive at first blush," he said.
But Everett asked why gas drillers should be assessed a severance tax when many other particular industries with deep pockets, such as pharmaceutical companies, escape such a tax.
Everett said this year's $27.15 billion state budget reflected fiscal responsibility with its spending cuts of more than $1 billion.
It also was the first time a budget was passed on time since 2003, he said.
However, the state continues to face fiscal challenges with pension obligations and other looming costs, including a $4 billion debt in unemployment compensation funds borrowed from the federal government.
With the state once again no longer able to draw funding from federal stimulus dollars, the budget is not so much being cut as "returning to normal" levels, he noted.
Everett said the tolling of Interstate 80 is a dead issue, but the need for a solution to the state's transportation funding is a problem that is not going away.
Getting everyone to agree to a revenue source, whether it be a gas tax or some kind of mileage assessment, is perhaps the biggest stumbling block.
The lawmaker noted that school consolidation is something worth considering.
With 500 public school districts in the state, it only makes sense to combine services and personnel as a means of saving costs, noted Everett.
"Officials know in their heart of hearts it's the right thing to do," he said.
Many people are resistant to merging with neighboring districts, Everett said, if for no other reason than they feel a loss of school identity.