Wolf makes closing pitch for infrastructure plan ahead of start of budget season

    Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at rally for his Restore PA infrastructure plan Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

    Gov. Tom Wolf closed out his tour of Pennsylvania’s flood-ravaged boroughs and rusted out mill towns in a place that’s neither flood-ravaged nor rusted out.

    Standing in the gilded state Capitol, where he was surrounded by local and state officeholders, the Democratic governor made his closing argument for his $4.5 billion in infrastructure plan, Restore PA.

    “People in Pennsylvania deserve to be without fear of their children ingesting toxins when they go to school,” Wolf added, one of a litany of examples he listed from his time crisscrossing the state.

    The bill text itself hasn’t been released. But Wolf’s plan — which he unequivocally states is not part of his budget proposal — calls for a severance tax on natural gas drillers to pay off four years of infrastructure investment.

    Projects could include expanding rural broadband, preparing fracking sites, or investing in public transit.

    Currently, Pennsylvania does not tax natural gas production, but places a tax on each well drilled. This is known as the impact fee, and it brings in hundreds of millions in tax revenues each year.

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    These funds are mostly sent to local governments to deal with the after effects of natural has production, from wear and tear on roads to environmental degradation.

    The plan has struggled to get much traction in the General Assembly among the House and Senate’s Republican majorities, though Wolf and company have pitched it as a bipartisan plan to help the whole state.

    “Right now, it’s a talking point,” John O’Brien, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said.

    The majority of Republicans, according to O’Brien, are uninterested in taking on more debt. But step one is Wolf “actually showing us legislation.”

    Environmental groups and some of their close Democratic allies have also grumbled, mostly in private, that the plan inexorably links the future success of the natural gas industry, and it’s climate and overall environmental impacts, to Pennsylvania’s finances.

     

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