Wolf’s infrastructure plan makes legislative debut with near-majority support

By: - June 5, 2019 5:24 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf’s much-hyped plan to expand broadband internet, fight flooding, and invest in natural gas production, among other infrastructure investments, was released Wednesday — with nearly enough support to pass both chambers.

According to a statement released by Wolf’s office, 99 House and 25 Senate lawmakers from both parties support the legislation. According to the state legislative website, the House bill has 83 Democratic sponsors and 16 Republicans. A Senate version was not available Wednesday afternoon.

It takes 102 votes for a bill to pass the House and 26 to pass the Senate.

“We have a real opportunity to make impactful infrastructure investments in Pennsylvania. Restore Pennsylvania is the only plan presented that can actually address the needs in every community,” Wolf said in the statement.

The plan calls for $4.5 billion in infrastructure spending over the next four years. Money would be directed by a board, with members appointed by the governor, as well as legislative leaders in both chambers.

The money would come from government bonds, backed by the revenue of a tax on natural gas production, to paid back for the next 20 years.

The tax rate would vary between .091 cents and .157 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas, depending on the yearly market price for gas.

House Republicans continued to voice opposition to the plan, specifically citing the debt the plan includes.

“The plan calls for borrowing $4.5 billion and that kind of debt is something most of our members still have trouble supporting,” Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, said in an email. “Plus, the impact fee system is working.”

Currently, Pennsylvania does not tax gas produced, but instead taxes each well drilled. Known as the impact fee, the money goes mostly to local governments to fix the after-effects of drilling, from road wear and tear to environmental projects.

Wolf has been careful to keep his infrastructure plan separate from his overall budget, a point he reiterated in a brief media scrum Wednesday.

But that could also mean, despite a months-long, cross-commonwealth tour to rouse grassroots support for the bill, it may be beyond the scope of the annual June budget brawl.

In an interview with Pennsylvania Cable Network Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said if Wolf’s plan is considered, it wouldn’t happen until fall.

Still, Wolf’s barnstorming has seemingly paid dividends. More than 60 local governments or municipal agencies have endorsed Restore PA, as the administration refers to the plan.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a natural gas industry trade group, released a statement opposing the plan, calling it a “tax, spend and borrow approach” that would lead to increased energy prices.

“With the right policies – focused on growing jobs locally and encouraging investment in Pennsylvania – lawmakers can help ensure that more revenue is being generated without causing harm to our workforce and our economy,” the trade group’s president, David Spigelmeyer, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, additional energy taxes along with added taxpayer debt to fuel even more government spending is not a serious approach.”

At least one environmental group, PennFuture, greeted the plan with applause for putting “forth an ambitious body of projects and vision for green infrastructure” and for showing “tremendous potential for more renewable energy projects, climate resiliency, land protection, watershed restoration and other environmental protection,” a statement from president and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo said.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.