EDITORIAL: Budget could hurt — unless you're a driller

Editorial board
The York Dispatch
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.
  • Guess who always survives these budgets feeling pretty darn good?
  • Gas drillers make a bundle off Pa.'s Marcellus Shale reserves without paying an extraction tax

Facing a $2.2 billion budget shortfall in their own spending plan, some Pennsylvania House Republicans are fretting about how to bridge that gap without some form of tax increase.

“This budget is going to be difficult,” Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, told The Associated Press. “And any solution is going to involve pain.”

Take a couple of guesses as to who exactly is likely to feel that pain.

More:DePasquale leads calls for extraction tax in state budget

In the past, it was homeowners, who saw higher school taxes when state education funding was cut; motorists, when gas taxes were raised and licensing and registration fees were hiked; smokers when tobacco taxes went up; and even small entrepreneurs forced out of business under last year’s 40 percent inventory tax on vape shops.

More:A ‘get out of town’ budget appears inevitable, lawmakers say

Now guess who always survives these budgets feeling pretty darn good?

Natural gas drillers, who continue making a bundle off Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale reserves without having to worry about an extraction tax — which they pay in every other large natural gas-producing state.

Most state Republicans in control of the Legislature have long resisted calls for a fair extraction tax, often trotting out the ridiculous argument that drillers would leave if asked to pay such a tax.

And go where?

For one thing, Pennsylvania sits atop the largest natural gas reserve in the United States. Secondly, as we already noted, no other state has lawmakers foolish enough to give drillers a free ride at the expense of their constituents.

We say “most Republicans” because some in the GOP have joined past bipartisan efforts to pass an extraction tax, only to see their bills die at the hands of stubborn colleagues.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was part of one such effort in 2009 as a Democratic House member representing York City and its suburbs.

If that bill had been enacted, the state would have earned $3 billion from natural gas drillers over the past eight years, he said recently during a news conference on the steps of the York County Administrative Building.

“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.”

Without a natural gas extraction tax this time around — the budget is due in just a few weeks — DePasquale said he and state Treasurer Joe Torsella could be forced to sign off on loans to pay the state’s bills.

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.”

No wonder lawmakers are already predicting the upcoming spending plan will be a “get-out-of-town budget” — one they drop on Pennsylvanians and then run for the hills.

For the time being, though, lawmakers are stuck in Harrisburg (where they’re supposed to be working on your behalf).

There’s still time to contact them and ask if, finally, natural gas drillers will be asked to shoulder their fair share of the coming pain.