No need to tarnish the gas impact fee with severance tax

The natural gas industry has paid $1.7 billion in impact fees to the state in Pennsylvania since 2012.

It also has asked for and received zero dollars in state funding to finance its drilling efforts, which in turn have led to jobs, a valuable export for the state and lower energy rates for residents.

But never mind that. Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration are pushing hard for an additional severance tax on the industry.

At a recent news conference at the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, Marcellus Shale Coalition leaders and local representatives espoused the reasons why a severance tax is not warranted. The arguments are the same ones that have been made for years, but they bear repeating.

The impact fee has done what it was supposed to do — and more. It was meant to bring revenues to those areas to fund work necessitated by its presence.

About a third of the amount collected the past eight years has therefore been distributed to our 10-county region for use in road resurfacing and a host of other infrastructure needs.

If we have a quibble with the impact fee, it may be that the usage categories are a bit too liberal and at times the funding has gone to things that don’t seem to relate to the spirit of the fee.

But that happens with a host of other state-initiated fees and taxes and no one raises an eyebrow.

If this impact fee were instead called a tax, it would be thought of as the asset that it really is.

More importantly, if the money were going primarily to the state’s more populated areas — like so many other state initiatives — there would be no gnashing of teeth over the need for a severance tax.

And if it were a traditional tax going directly to the coffers in Harrisburg, it would be swallowed up by bureaucracy and loose spending and our region’s infrastructure would be an unattended mess.

The state needs to continue strictly regulating the gas drilling industry over environmental concerns, but it needs to let the impact fee stand alone as the price of doing business in the state.

The Legislature actually passed a productive piece of legislation when it initiated the gas impact fee.

There’s no need to get punitive with a second tax and chase a successful industry out of the state.