Pa. Governor Corbett broke promises on taxes, GOP opponent claims

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 9:40 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Conservative activist Bob Guzzardi and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett agree on several issues, but Guzzardi sharply criticizes the incumbent on two of the largest policy initiatives of his administration.

The $2.4 billion transportation bill that Corbett signed in November and the impact fee on natural gas drillers he advocated rile Guzzardi, a Montgomery County attorney. Guzzardi is trying to get on the ballot to challenge Corbett in the GOP primary on May 20.

He calls Corbett a “promise breaker” for advocating no tax hikes in his 2010 campaign and signing the transportation bill, which lifts the ceiling on a wholesale gasoline tax and may raise pump prices by 28 cents per gallon over five years. To Guzzardi, it's a gas tax increase.

The “deceptive” shale impact fee Corbett signed was “enacted by two-faced, double-talking lawmakers who simply wanted more tax money,” Guzzardi said.

Corbett's campaign manager, Michael Barley, said the governor “has been responsible in addressing the needs of Pennsylvania and respecting the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”

“A lot of people believe he has kept his promise to keep government taxes low,” Barley said. Pennsylvania's bridges and roads are in such poor condition that fixing them is a “a core function of government.”

Fee or tax?

Based on their public statements and a Tribune-Review survey, Corbett and Guzzardi agree in concept on providing tuition vouchers for school choice, restricting abortion, privatizing the state liquor system and preserving the state's ban on gay marriage.

Corbett hasn't convinced a Republican-controlled Legislature to sell the state stores or enact school choice; a challenge to the gay marriage ban is pending in court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December struck down portions of Act 13, a signature Corbett bill giving the state authority over zoning in Marcellus shale gas drilling. The idea was to establish uniform standards for drillers. The high court did not reject the impact fee, intended to provide money to municipalities where drilling increased local costs, but the justices directed Commonwealth Court to hold a hearing on whether the fee can stand separate from stricken portions of the law.

“We have asked the Supreme Court to revisit their decision that dismantled key provisions of what was a bipartisan agreement between my administration, the Legislature, local government and environmental groups,” Corbett said.

The law “raised the bar on environmental protection and respected the rights of local governments who had input and strong support in the drafting of Act 13,” he said. “As governor, I proposed and then signed the first comprehensive expansion of Pennsylvania's environmental laws in nearly 30 years.”

But Guzzardi said the shale-gas impact fee is “in reality, a tax presented as a fee to compensate local municipalities for adverse effects, if any, of local drilling. ... The media uncritically accepted the deceptive characterization.”

Help or hindrance?

Though Corbett's Democratic challengers seek a higher severance tax on natural gas extraction, Guzzardi said the fee is the wrong approach.

“The natural gas industry is the only private-sector industry that is growing in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It is the only bright spot in our economic future. Why punish the only remaining goose laying any golden eggs?”

Impact fees and royalties are collected and distributed for environmental and community improvement projects, Corbett said. A lump sum every year goes to state agencies to help local governments offset the effects of drilling. Another portion goes to the Marcellus Legacy Fund.

That fund “helps finance statewide initiatives with local impacts, such as competitive community grants, environmental and conservation grants, infrastructure and water management and highway bridge improvements,” Corbett said. “The remaining amounts are distributed for job training and similar local and regional infrastructure and capital reserve projects in counties and municipalities where wells are.”

In all, about $34.2 million went to a 10-county region in Western Pennsylvania — including $11.3 million for Washington County, $8.3 million for Greene County, $4.2 million for Westmoreland County, $3.8 million for Fayette County, $2.2 million for Butler County and $1.3 million for Allegheny County, according to Corbett's campaign.

The money pays for projects such as resurfacing Days Run Road in Frazer, or Armstrong County's replacement of a public works truck in North Buffalo, Corbett said. In Westmoreland County, the county is updating its emergency radio equipment, he said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter.

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