A tax in search of a use

A tax in search of a use

The Wolf administration’s oft-proposed “severance tax” on shale gas has taken on the rather unbecoming specter of a tax in search of a use.

You might recall that during Gov. Tom Wolf’s first term, the tax was touted as a way to balance the commonwealth’s budget and cover the increasing costs of state employment “benefits.”

With no luck passing such a tax – that could be because there’s already such a tax, known as an “impact fee” – the governor now is about to introduce a piece of legislation he calls “Restore Pennsylvania.”

As The Center Square website reports it:

“The Restore Pennsylvania proposal, which Wolf said should appear in bill form soon, would borrow the $4.5 billion right away, and then pay off that debt incrementally over the course of the next few decades using the proceeds of the severance tax.”

Or as Wolf put it:

“We are a commonwealth on a comeback. That’s who we are. Pennsylvania is a great place to be. But we should make sure that we invest in that commonwealth.

“Progress begets progress. So I’m calling on the Legislature to do what is right for the people in Pennsylvania, the people we all serve in this building. We need to invest in them. We need to invest in our shared future. We need to pass Restore Pennsylvania.”

Ah, more “progress” and “prosperity” through higher taxation, is that it? Or, put another way: A tax on top of a tax leveraged with more debt. Brilliant! Not!

The plan had no legs when first floated in January; it’s difficult to see that it has grown any legs in the past four months.

Perhaps in a few more months the governor will propose the same tax to fund something else. But, and pardon the metaphor mashup, smearing a new shade of lipstick on the same pig remains a dog that will not hunt.

The Post-Gazette reports that the Allegheny County Airport Authority, last Friday, “approved a $995,000 increase in an existing $300,000 contract with PFM Financial Advisors LLC to help the authority with the bond issue related to” the $1.1 billion (and counting) modernization project at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Inquiring minds want to know:  Why?

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).