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DePasquale leads calls for extraction tax in state budget

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • Local and state officials are calling for a natural gas extraction tax to fill holes in the 2017-18 state budget.
  • Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the state faces a $3 billion budget shortfall without significant structural changes.

Without significant changes to Pennsylvania’s budget structure, the state will be broke for much of the next year, according to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

If Pennsylvania adopts the 2017-18 budget proposal passed in April by Republicans in the House of Representatives, the state will have a negative balance in its checking account for eight of the next 12 months, DePasquale said, noting “what a bad idea” that is for the state’s fiscal future.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale calls for a natural gas extraction tax to be included in the state's 2017-18 budget as state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, left, and West York Mayor Shawn Mauck, second from left, look on. Jason Addy photo. Friday, June 9, 2017.

With the June 30 budget deadline — and a projected $3 billion shortfall — looming over state lawmakers, local leaders took to the steps of the York County Administrative Center, calling for a natural gas extraction tax to save essential services.

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As a member of the state House in 2009, DePasquale and a majority of his colleagues passed an extraction tax, but the bill was shot down in the Senate.

If that bill had been enacted, the state would have earned $3 billion from natural gas drillers over the past eight years, he said.

“There goes your budget deficit without having to raise one other tax or making one other cut,” DePasquale said. “(But) that’s what happens when Harrisburg is in the pocket of special interests.”

If the state doesn't adopt a natural gas extraction tax, DePasquale said, he and state Treasurer Joe Torsella could be forced to sign off on loans to pay the state’s bills. 

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The state might have to pay 5 percent to 7 percent interest rates on those loans, he said, calling it “the height of fiscal irresponsibility.”

“How many people think it is a good idea to take out a home-equity loan to buy your groceries?” DePasquale asked the group of about a dozen members from local unions and the Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues.

Clark Ruppert, a member of the Pennsylvania State Council of Machinists from West Manchester Township, said he showed up at the administrative center Friday to support DePasquale’s calls for an extraction tax, with the state losing money every day it doesn’t have one. 

 

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That money can support essential services in York County and help people earn a livable wage, he said. 

Local community activist Carla Christopher called for state lawmakers to put their priorities in order by taxing natural gas drillers to fund public schools and provide essential mental health services to residents.

The community doesn’t want to build more prisons or housing complexes, she said. It wants the resources it needs to provide a good education and real opportunities for its people.

“When we talk about not being able to afford pre-K, we might as well talk about not being able to afford a future of educated working individuals who can build a Pennsylvania we can all live in,” Christopher said. 

Christopher, who serves as equity coordinator for the York County School of Technology, spoke about how high school students are already struggling to learn with outdated textbooks and equipment, crowded classrooms and moldy, crumbling walls at their schools.

“We have the ability to fix this, with a tax — and we’re not?” she said, challenging lawmakers to tell the children in York County classrooms that the state cannot afford to help them learn. 

“If we don’t pass this tax, that’s what we’re doing,” Christopher said. “I think that Pennsylvania is better than that, and I think that we are better than that.”