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Corbett, Schwartz spar in advance of 2014 gubernatorial campaign

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 6:03 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Republican Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday criticized a leading Democratic candidate's plan to levy a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas, marking the first time Corbett's campaign has responded to a likely challenger.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County outlined her plan on her campaign website, bringing an immediate rebuke from Corbett, who will seek re-election next year.

Corbett, a Shaler Republican, said Schwartz revealed an agenda “to tax the industry out of our state.” Losing the shale-gas industry, he said, would result in the loss of “good-paying, middle-class jobs.”

“Allyson Schwartz disagrees,” said her spokesman, Mark Bergman. “She believes that Pennsylvanians should be able to profit from this vast natural resource for transformational investments in our schools and infrastructure. The modest 5 percent extraction levy is well in line with other states, including Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma.”

“It almost looks like a pre-emptive strike” against a candidate who appears to lead among Democrats, said Steven Peterson, a political science professor at Penn State University's Harrisburg campus. Peterson was surprised by how early leading candidates began exchanging blows.

Corbett, who signed a natural gas impact fee in February 2012, has floundered in public opinion polls. A poll last week by Franklin & Marshall College found 76 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed consider Corbett's job performance fair to poor, and 16 percent say it's excellent or good. His rating fell since May.

The impact fee he signed has raised $400 million in the past 10 months. It is intended to offset any impact on local and state governments from Marcellus shale gas drilling.

Commonwealth Court struck down part of the law in 2012. A decision is pending before the Supreme Court on the extent to which the state can limit municipal rights to control drilling.

Democrats in the Legislatureroutinely have panned Corbett's proposal as a weak plan that effectively lets a multibillion-dollar industry off the hook.

Schwartz said her plan would generate money for transportation needs, education and property tax relief. The 5 percent tax would be added on top of the impact fee, her website explains. It would generate $612 million in 2013-14 and $1.2 billion by 2017-18.

Corbett suggested his policies have been beneficial to the economy and jobs. The natural gas industry “helped to reignite growth and opportunity in areas of the state that have been in decline for decades,” he said.

Peterson said the Corbett campaign was trying “to begin to frame the contest” and intended to portray Schwartz as a “tax-and-spend liberal.”

Other Democratic candidates include former Department of Environmental Protection secretaries Katie McGinty of Philadelphia and John Hanger of Harrisburg; former state Revenue secretary Tom Wolf of York; Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz; and Max Myers, a former pastor from Mechanicsburg.

Analysts expect Treasurer Rob McCord of Montgomery County to run. Former Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview has said he's considering a run.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol writer. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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