A tax on natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale isn't a Republican issue or a Democratic issue --- it's a fairness issue, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said Friday.
During a luncheon at the Sunset Room in Elizabeth Twp., hosted by the Mon-Yough Area Chamber of Commerce, Fetterman, former mayor of Braddock, said even hard-core Republican states such as Oklahoma and Texas levy taxes on the extraction of natural gas.
Those states "aren't some socialist dream from some 'tax-and-spend lib,'" Fetterman joked.
After Texas, Pennsylvania is the nation's second-biggest producer of natural gas. Yet only Pennsylvania has no such tax, said Fetterman, who is backing a proposal from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to levy 4.5 percent on natural gas to fund infrastructure improvements statewide.
Such a tax would raise an estimated $4.5 billion over four years, Fetterman said, which would be targeted in part to repair roads and bridges and demolish abandoned and blighted buildings.
"There are so many proposals to revitalize our communities, but we lack the resources," Fetterman said. "We have elected officials in this room who understand the situation on the ground --- but we need a solution that will work across the state."
Under Wolf's plan, which he calls "Restore PA," money raised by the tax also would be invested to improve drainage in areas prone to flooding; create a disaster relief trust fund; help manufacturers to expand their facilities; and clean up areas that were contaminated by closed factories.
Money also would be invested to expand broadband Internet service to many parts of Pennsylvania that still lack it.
Wolf and Fetterman are Democrats. Republicans control both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature, and oppose a natural gas tax, as do the oil and gas industries.
Fetterman said that he would invite opponents of a natural gas tax to drive through Braddock, McKeesport or any of the neighboring communities and see the "hundreds and hundreds" of abandoned buildings that need to be torn down.
"I'd ask them, what is your solution to fund this?" Fetterman said. "This is not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem. Cambria County is a red county. They didn't vote for me. But an abandoned or dilapidated building looks the same in Cambria as it does in a Democratic county."
Pennsylvania does levy an "impact fee" against companies that drill and operate natural gas wells.
However, most of the money raised by that fee goes strictly to counties and municipalities that have active wells, said state Sen. Jim Brewster, another speaker at Friday's event.
Under the current arrangement, the City of Duquesne's share of statewide natural gas drilling revenues last year "was about $13," according to Brewster, while McKeesport received about $500.
Brewster is supportive of Wolf's proposal.
"One of the problems we have as we get into older communities is that we have to deal with old infrastructure," Brewster said. The current system "is an unfair process in my mind," he said.
Also in attendance Friday was Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. He said he believes that if an extraction tax is passed, the revenue generated could be used to update infrastucture and help connect the Mon Valley to job opportunities at Pittsburgh's hospitals and universities, and to the chemical facilities being developed in Beaver County near a new Shell Oil facility currently under construction.
"It doesn't make any sense for us to be the only state in the nation that doesn't have an extraction tax," Fitzgerald said. "We need to make improvements to our transportation system so that people from the Mon Valley can get to these opportunities. We've got to get our people to those jobs."
About 200 people attended the luncheon. Other speakers included Don Smith, president of Regional Industrial Development Corp.; state Sen. Jay Costa; state Rep. Bill Kortz; state Rep. Mike Puskaric; and Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey of West Mifflin.
Former WQED-TV host Michael Bartley served as master of ceremonies. A native of Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood, Bartley is now the executive vice president of Steeltown Entertainment Project, located on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Jason Togyer is the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published April 26, 2019.