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Politics & Government

Democrat Calls For Priority Focus On Shale Tax During Budget Debate

After slogging through weeks of hearings on Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 budget proposal, the Pennsylvania Legislature returns to session Monday. Now their real work on the budget begins. 

Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) says lawmakers need to get down to business quickly if they hope to make the June 30 deadline. Senate Republicans have scheduled only six session days this month and the same number in May. 

Topping Yudichak’s list of priorities is debating the governor’s proposed 5 percent Marcellus Shale severance tax.

“We are looking at $1.5 to $2 billion structural deficit so clearly we need new revenue,” Yudichak said. “We need to have a responsible energy policy, a responsible severance tax, so that we can have a responsible budget for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”

Yudichak believes lawmakers are starting to realize that new revenues are needed, and he says there is growing support for a severance tax. However, Yudichak thinks it will take time to find a compromise that both parties can support.

“How do we make sure that we’re not punishing the job creators? How do we do that?  We don’t want the severance tax to be punitive. That discussion is moving forward in a positive way,” Yudichak said.

It is clear that Yudichak is at least partially motivated by the governor’s stance that the bulk of the severance tax be sent to school districts to help lower property taxes. The senator is the co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would fully eliminate school property taxes.

“We need to make these investments in our schools,” Yudichak said.  “Whether it’s our K through 12 schools, whether it’s our community colleges, our public institutions of higher education.”

Republicans have indicated that they will be willing to discus a severance tax only after the issues of liquor privatization and pension shortfalls are addressed by the Legislature.