After touting it across the state for months, lawmakers have finally introduced Gov. Tom Wolf’s ambitious infrastructure proposal as a concrete piece of legislation.
It has a large, bipartisan slate of sponsors in both chambers. But it lacks crucial support from GOP leaders.
The plan is intended to fund a range of infrastructure improvements, from roads to flood prevention.
Lawmakers would pay for it with $4.5 billion in bonds. They’d pay it back pay back the bonds over 20 years using money from a new severance tax on natural gas drillers, which would slide between .091 cents and .157 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas extracted, depending on market prices.
The plan doesn't say what the interest rate would be. But an estimate from the governor’s office using a five percent rate has the commonwealth paying back $7.2 billion, total. A spokesman for the governor called that a “relatively liberal” estimate.
Sam Robinson, Wolf’s deputy chief of staff, said it’s worthwhile.
“If you can make these investments up front, that’s important because then people can use them, as opposed to waiting to sort of just pay as you go,” he said.
The administration said it has 99 cosponsors in the House and 25 in the Senate—just shy of enough votes to pass in both chambers.
Robinson said he is confident more Republicans will sign on.
“As members have a chance to look at the language and review all the great initiatives that are within this program, I think a lot of members are going to be interested in joining this legislation,” he said.
But leadership is against it.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said he still needs more details on how money will be spent.
And House Speaker Mike Turzai, a longtime natural gas booster, called it “irresponsible” and “anticompetitive.”
Along with taking issue with the bond payment model, Turzai said he dislikes the plan for distributing the cash from the new tax.
Wolf has proposed forming a board to direct the spending. Three members would be appointed by the administration and the other four would be the leaders of the legislative caucuses. The board would need six votes to make spending decisions.
Turzai characterized the arrangement as a “debt-financed slush fund to be allocated at the whim of a new government board.”
The plan isn’t tied to the state budget, which is currently being negotiated. If the legislature takes it up, it likely won’t be until the coming fall.
Wolf has attempted to pass a severance tax annually since becoming governor. The GOP-controlled House and Senate have rejected the proposals every time.