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Severance Tax Supporter Wins PA Democratic Primary to Challenge Corbett

York County, PA, businessman Tom Wolf, who took a seat at the front of the state's Democratic primary for governor in January and never looked back, earned his party's nomination on Tuesday to challenge Republican incumbent Tom Corbett in November.

Wolf, who supports an oil and gas severance tax and stronger regulations for unconventional operators developing the Marcellus Shale, landed 484,495 votes, or about 58%, to edge out Philadelphia Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who took a distant 18% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

In his acceptance speech, Wolf made a direct appeal to one of the top issues in the primary, by saying that Corbett had "played fast and loose" with the state's natural gas resources.

Corbett ran unchallenged. Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley will face off against Democrat Michael Stack, a state senator from Philadelphia, where opposition has significantly grown against the oil and gas industry in recent years.

Wolf personally bankrolled a multi-million dollar ad campaign and jumped ahead of the primary's early frontrunners, Schwartz and State Treasurer Rob McCord, who took about 17% of the vote. Former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Katie McGinty took 8%.

All four primary candidates had called for a new oil and gas severance tax in addition to the state's impact fee, which collects a flat rate from all unconventional wells drilled each year to allocate to host communities (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15, 2012).

On his website, Wolf said, "if states like Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma are able to charge a severance tax on gas extraction to fund key priorities, it's time Pennsylvania does too." Like the other candidates, Wolf has said that additional revenues generated by a severance tax could be used to fill a state budget deficit and make up for some of the cuts to education funding that the state has seen in recent years.

Both chambers of the statehouse, though, are currently controlled by Republicans, and enacting a severance tax has been a legislative bone of contention going back to Corbett’s predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, who ended his second term in 2010 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 28).

The focus now shifts to the November election, in which Wolf's chances of winning have been said to hinge on the more liberal southeastern portion of the state, where recent polls have shown him to be ahead of Corbett. As recently as last week, members of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association railed against the severance tax proposals, with President Lou D'Amico suggesting that the candidates would kill the "goose that lays the golden egg” (see Shale Daily, May 19).

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