By Eric Boehm/Pa. Independent
HARRISBURG — A new tax on the extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania brought in $204 million for state and local government coffers in 2011.
Local governments will start receiving checks for their share of the impact fee within the next two weeks, the state Public Utility Commission announced recently at a news conference, during which Gov. Tom Corbett heralded the impact fee revenues as striking a balance between dealing with the consequences of gas drilling and making sure the industry continues to invest in Pennsylvania.
The passage of a major gas drilling policy in February is one of the primary legislative accomplishments of Corbett’s first term in office.
But not all of it goes back to local governments. In fact, the state gets the first shot at the fee revenues — $23 million of the total is skimmed off the top to fund a variety of state agencies, including the Fish and Boat Commission, the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation.
After that, the remaining $181 million is split 60/40 between local governments and the state’s new Marcellus Legacy Fund, which will direct dollars to state-level conservation projects, bridge improvements and sewer projects.
Environmental groups and many Democrats decried the impact fee legislation as a give-away to the gas industry when it was passed. They said the state could have collected more revenue by imposing a higher rate on drillers without jeopardizing their investments in Pennsylvania.
Corbett disagreed with that notion Monday. He said if the state kept raising taxes, it would drive companies from Pennsylvania.
Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, called the impact fee a “game changer” for small townships with budget’s of $100,000 or so. Some of those places will be getting impact fee checks of $50,000.
Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said his county would allow municipalities to compete for the county’s share of impact-fee revenue by proposing projects that could be funded.
He said he expects to use most of the dollars for road and bridge projects, along with water and sewer repairs and extensions.
About 20 percent all local impact-fee revenue is heading to Washington and Greene counties in the southwestern corner of the state, where the majority of gas drilling is taking place.