Making cash from gas, not safety issues, takes center stage in PA governor race

It’s how to make money from fracking that’s taken the main stage in Pennsylvania’s race for governor, not safety issues or fracking in state forests.

Democratic challenger Tom Wolf says slapping a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extracted in the state could provide up to $1 billion annually, which could help minimize the state’s budget deficit and, most notably, feed into its education fund.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, says an extraction tax could drive gas companies out of Pennsylvania, so he supports the state’s existing impact fee. (Pennsylvania is currently the only major natural gas-producing state with no tax on it.)

Current political opinion polls show Wolf winning the seat by about 20 points.

Some experts analyzing the battle of Toms say one of the reasons Wolf has pulled ahead so significantly could be his eagerness to tax the gas industry in order to help the state budget and education spending, according to InsideClimate News.  

According to a September survey out of Muhlenberg College, education, taxes and the economy are the top three things Pennsylvania voters care about this election.

From the story:

Pennsylvania is currently staring down a $1 billion budget deficit. The state government has made drastic cuts to school funding in recent years, forcing communities across the state to raise property taxes and eliminate more than 23,000 education jobs…

In February, Wolf's campaign released a television ad showing the candidate explaining to a room full of elementary school students, "Guess what? The money we need to fund our schools lies right underneath your feet." He has reiterated the point on his website, at dozens of campaign events across the state, and during the candidates' three debates this fall.

"Wolf was one of the first to link the state's education funding problem and fracking in a campaign," said Chris Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. "It has been a really deadly combination for Corbett as a candidate."

The natural gas debate in Pennsylvania’s election couldn’t be more different than what’s happening in Colorado, where, according to the article, “a fierce anti-fracking movement has forced candidates for both the gubernatorial and senate positions to debate creating strict fracking regulations, or stopping extraction altogether.”

Wolf has never come out against fracking, but has rather chosen to emphasize the need to tax and regulate it more.

From the story:

One thing has become clear during the gubernatorial race: Pennsylvania voters largely support natural gas drilling as long as they benefit from it. Because Pennsylvania is a swing state largely seen as a microcosm for the nation, that message could suggest how candidates will have to approach fracking in the 2016 election.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or at nkhan@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @khantasha.