Despite meetings that brought together members of
both chambers and both sides of the aisle in Pennsylvania's General
Assembly and representatives from the gas industry at the Governor's
Mansion in Harrisburg Monday and Tuesday, agreement on a proposed
natural gas severance tax bill remains elusive, according to Senate
President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson).
The chances of SB 1155 becoming law "diminish by the
hour," Scarnati said after he and other Senate Republican leaders met
with Gov. Ed Rendell Tuesday morning.
"I don't believe that we're any closer to a deal.
Certainly, the governor has laid out some different proposals. We
continue to have the same concerns we've had in the past on the tax
rate and certain exemptions. Whether or not anybody moves further I
think is yet to be seen."
Rendell said a proposed compromise cobbled together during the
meetings could be enacted before the end of the 2010 legislative
session if the industry and Senate Republicans throw their support
behind it. The plan would phase in the severance tax over the next
three years while exempting up to 10% of some production and
"This is fair," Rendell said. "It is a significant compromise. The
industry should accept it. The Senate Republicans should accept it."
"The governor's position is significantly different than the bill
that passed the House on both the rate and the distribution of pro-
ceeds," said Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware). "We're certainly
far apart from any agreement, but the governor's position is much
different than where the House was and much closer to our position
than where the House was." Rendell asked Senate Republican lead-
ers to meet with him again Wednesday, Scarnati said.
On Monday afternoon Rendell hosted a meeting of
Pennsylvania House Republicans and Democrats, along with
representatives of Range Resources, Chesapeake, Chief Oil & Gas and
Adding a significant hurdle to possible passage of a
severance tax bill is the dwindling number of scheduled days remaining
in the 2010 legislative session and the looming Nov. 2 election. The
House passed a version of SB 1155 last month that included a 39
cents/Mcf tax rate (see Shale Daily, Oct. 5) and
Rendell previously proposed a 5% extraction tax, plus 4.7 cents/Mcf.
The tax rate passed by the House "might just as well
have been a moratorium bill to drive the industry out of the state,"
Scarnati said. "Maybe that was their intent, I'm not sure." Shallow gas
producers, in particular, would be hit hard by the House bill. Senate
Republicans have said they want exemptions for shallow gas producers to
be included in the final legislation.
The Senate, which reconvened Tuesday after being in
recess since Sept. 29, has taken no action on the severance tax. There
are only two more scheduled session days (Oct. 13-14) remaining on the
Senate calendar before the election and only one more (Nov. 17) before
the end of the year. The House is not scheduled to meet again until
Scarnati and other Senate Republicans have said the
House may have violated the state's constitution by adding the
severance tax language to a county bonding bill. Even if they were to
pass the bill, it could get overturned in court, they said. Scarnati
has requested an official opinion from the state's Legislative
Reference Bureau (LRB) "regarding the likely constitutionality" of SB
1155. On Tuesday, Scarnati said his office has received the LRB opinion
and it indicates that SB 1155 has constitutional problems.
But according to the Pennsylvania House Democratic
Caucus, the LRB found only a single violation in SB 1155 that "can be
easily cured by Senate amendment."
"The Senate's argument on constitutionality is a red
herring," said House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne). "Simply
put, the ball is clearly in the Senate's court, morally, ethically and
"The procedural and process aspects of this are
somewhat challenging because of the constitutional provision that
fund-raising bills start in the House," Pileggi said. The best way for
the process to proceed would be for a new bill to come out of the House
"that would not be defective and would contain a proposal that we could
support in the Senate and the governor could sign. Whether the House is
will or able to do that is still an open question." The House would
have to add days to its legislative calendar and the Senate probably
would have to work longer than currently planned as well, he said.
"We're going to continue to work on this, but we will not come back
after the election."
Noting that the state has been producing
hydrocarbons for well over 100 years, Pennsylvania state Senator Mary
Jo White, chairwoman of the Environmental Resources and Energy
Committee, said a tax doesn't make sense now.
"I am not a fan of the severance tax," she told an
audience Monday at the 2010 Marcellus Summit at Penn State. "The
governor made it a condition of signing the budget. It may not make it
across the finish line, I don't know. What other business would come
into your state and say, 'I want to invest hundreds of millions of
dollars in your economy' and not ask for us to build them a plant or
provide any subsidies. We'd be crawling all over ourselves to find out
what we could do to attract them and we certainly wouldn't be
[implementing] a tax before it got off of the ground."