Everett addresses severance tax, minimum wage

Every budget year includes a myriad of hot issues that lawmakers spend time debating as the June 30 deadline draws nearer.

It was no different this time around with topics ranging from adding a natural gas severance tax to considering a minimum wage hike.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, told the Sun-Gazette he was glad to see a severance tax not included in this year’s state spending plan.

“We see that as a stand-alone issue,” he said.

The tax has been pushed by Gov. Wolf and others as a means of generating budget revenues, but Everett has long contended that many dollars from the tax would simply end up in the general fund rather than back in communities where drilling occurs.

“Philadelphia would like it,” he said, noting the city and its suburbs, which represent a large slice of the state’s population, would get a lot of the money.

“The mantra continues to be we don’t tax the gas industry like other states,” he said.

But Everett said that’s simply not true.

He feels there is good oversight of the gas industry from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The lawmaker once again made his stance clear on voting machines.

He took issue with Gov. Wolf’s call for borrowing from the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority to purchase the machines. That came after legislation to borrow $90 million to help counties pay for the machines, which also included a provision to abolish straight-party voting, was vetoed by the governor.

Everett said the voting machine disagreement could end up in court if the governor further oversteps his authority.

“We are told he (Wolf) has only stated his intent to do this. Until he takes action, we can’t do anything,” Everett said.

Everett said he favors eliminating straight party ticket voting.

Pennsylvania, he noted, is one of just eight states that still allow it.

“You should go in the voting booth and vote for people, not parties,” he said.

Everett was happy to see the minimum wage issue not included in the budget.

He said he didn’t favor the governor’s push for a minimum wage hike from $7.75 to $12 per hour.

Many minimum wage earners, he noted, are young people, college students and other first-time job holders.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some raise in the minimum wage,” he said.

But incremental increases over time from the present minimum wage, he feels, would be a better course of action.

Everett does not favor municipalities without their own police departments paying for state police coverage and favored taking the issue out of the budget.

Many sparsely populated and rural communities experience little crime and have little reason to have departments.

He conceded that Loyalsock Township is among the more populated communities without its own police coverage that comes under fire for utilizing state police.

It’s up to a particular municipality to decide if it wants its own law enforcement body, he said, adding regionalization of police departments might be the answer.

“It’s not an issue that is going away,” he said.