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Gov. Wolf Promotes His Infrastructure Investment Plan But Funding Remains Uncertain

Gov. Tom Wolf talks with a Bridgeville official on a walking tour of last year’s flood damage.";

Governor Tom Wolf was in Bridgeville Thursday to tout his Restore Pennsylvania plan, which he said could generate $4.5 billion for infrastructure investments across the state over the next four years.

At the Bridgeville Borough Office southwest of Pittsburgh on Thursday, Wolf focused on the plan’s proposed disaster relief trust fund. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration provide funding for people affected by declared disasters, many Pennsylvanians experience property loss for which there is no help, said Wolf.

“The idea is to make up for a gap that exists right now in the funding for disasters like this,” he said, referencing the June 20 flood that caused millions of dollars of damage in Bridgeville last summer. “The federal government is not stepping up and has decided they can’t step up to do the things we actually need in places like Bridgeville.”

Extreme weather hit municipalities across Allegheny County and Pennsylvania last year, and officials say they expect to see continued damage from landslides and floods. As he toured the state, Wolf said he always felt like he was at a funeral.

“It was really frustrating to say nothing more than, ‘geez, I’m sorry for your loss, there’s nothing I can do,’” he said. “Here’s something that we can do, and it’s a constructive thing that we can do that can actually help people where they are, where they hurt.”

The proposal includes other initiatives such as building out a broadband network and helping communities address blight. However, funding for Restore Pennsylvania depends on the legislature passing a severance tax on oil and gas companies, an effort which has failed multiple times in the past. Pennsylvania currently charges a flat-rate impact fee per well; a severance tax would generate revenue based on the amount of oil and gas produced. Pennsylvania is the only oil- and gas-producing state in the nation without a severance tax.

Wolf said he’s asking for a “reasonable” tax he estimates could annually generate $300 million that, once invested, would generate $4.5 billion in four years. He stressed the cost of the tax would be borne by downstream consumers, not Pennsylvanians. He said there is bipartisan support from legislators.

The impact fee already pays for infrastructure in Pennsylvania, contended Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer in a statement. “Imposing additional energy taxes will cost consumers, hurt local jobs, especially among the building and labor trades, and negatively impact investment needed to safely produce clean and abundant energy that’s ushering in a new era of manufacturing growth.”

Wolf said that hasn’t been the case in other states and won’t be the case in Pennsylvania.

When asked if alternative funding schemes for Restore Pennsylvania had been considered, Wolf said no, there is no alternative funding.

In the interim, Bridgeville Council president Mike Tolmer said they will work with the state Department of Environmental Protection on some possible flood mitigation projects. The local baseball field sits right where McLaughlin Run Creek enters the town; one option is to lower the field by a few feet to act as a sort of retention pond. 

"Flood the ballpark instead of flooding our town," he said.