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Parsing and pussyfooting in the Corbett adminisration

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Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The “P”-word is hanging heavy over the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. “P” stands for “parsing.”

Think of the administration's proposal to raise the Oil Company Franchise Tax. That's the tax petroleum distributors pay on gasoline and diesel fuel at the wholesale level. The measure arrested with the failure of the transportation bill this summer. But legislators are expected to apply the shock paddles and revive it this fall.

The Corbett administration rejects the notion that an 80 percent increase in the tax (over a five-year phase-in) is a tax increase. It prefers the word “uncapping.” Adding incredulity to euphemism, it rationalizes how much of the tax increase, er, “uncapping,” will be passed along to consumers at the pump.

Or think just this past week of Mr. Corbett signing legislation allowing “pooling” in natural gas drilling. As the Trib's Tim Puko reported, citing legal scholars and landowner advocates, “It effectively forces people with existing contracts to allow their land to be pooled into larger drilling units without having the full power to negotiate better deals in return.”

The governor takes umbrage to the term “forced pooling,” a phrase typically used in reference to drillers who surround an unleased property with leased properties in an attempt to force extraction of the former's reserves. To his credit, Corbett is against that.

But he also has told legislators that the just-signed drilling law protects the rights of landowners and lease holders. His “energy executive,” Patrick Henderson, says euphemistically that the new law allows existing leases to be “developed more efficiently.”

But it's by reinterpreting, not renegotiating, the contracts. If pooling is not expressly forbidden in existing contracts, it's now OK for drillers to include such leased land in the pool.

Is this not a backdoor way to exploit those with old gas leases, some agreed to in a vertical-drilling world, to gain access to their Marcellus gas reserves in a horizontal-drilling world?

Make no mistake, Marcellus shale natural gas is a wonderful resource. It should be exploited to everyone's benefit. But let's not eviscerate — and parse — the right of contract in the process.

Which brings up another “P”-word applicable to the Corbett administration — “pussyfooting.”

Said the governor last week in Pittsburgh, touting how his Labor Department is reshaping the way it helps the unemployed find work, “We're trying to change government to catch up and learn from (the private sector's) successes and mistakes.”

But the quote is applicable in another context — to three specific policy areas in which Corbett has remained largely mute:

• The governor says he'd sign right-to-work legislation if it came to his desk. But he's taken to no bully pulpit expounding its proven business-attracting (and tax-receipt-generating) virtues.

• Prevailing wages on public projects increase labor costs by up to 30 percent. The governor favors “a retooling” where outright rescission is necessary; there's no open advocacy for slaying this money-sucking giant.

• Corbett believes that public employees — think teachers and transit drivers — should not be allowed to strike. Great! But, again, there's been no real push from him to take on the strike cudgel the unions hold high to hold the public hostage in order to extract more taxpayer dollars.

Parsing and pussyfooting are not a good foundation for a re-election campaign.

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or

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