63 percent of Pa. voters back tax on shale gas industry, poll finds

| Friday, Jan. 7, 2011

Gov.-elect Tom Corbett took a tough stand against any new taxes when campaigning, but many voters who agreed with him apparently did so with a caveat in mind.

Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters -- and more than half of registered Republicans -- say they support taxing the Marcellus shale gas industry, according to a statewide poll conducted for the Tribune-Review.

"I would say I agree with him on no tax on other things," said Ralph Harris, 71, a Philadelphia Republican. "On this one here, if he didn't put a tax on (Marcellus shale gas) I wouldn't be against him but I would be a little disappointed. It's funny: I don't want any taxes, but on that one there, I think they should tax something."

Support for some sort of tax on the Marcellus shale gas industry in Pennsylvania extends across the state and reaches into nearly every demographic group, according to the Susquehanna Polling & Research survey of 800 voters, conducted from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2. The poll's margin of error is 3.46 percent.

Among polled voters, 63 percent support a tax on natural gas drilling. Even within Corbett's party, 56 percent favor a tax.

Corbett remains opposed to new taxes or fees on the gas industry, spokesman Kevin Harley said. In a recent interview with the Trib, however, Corbett said he would consider any measures the Legislature approves to compensate communities for damage drillers cause.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, in a year-end interview with reporters Thursday, lamented the Legislature's failure to pass a shale tax last year. But he said he interprets statements made by Republican legislators and Corbett's transition team to mean the Legislature is "going to pass a fee ... to compensate local and county governments" where drilling occurs.

Support for a gas tax is highest in areas where little or no drilling has occurred, such as the state's Northeastern counties and in Philadelphia and Allegheny County. Opposition is highest in the Northeast, which has not had significant drilling.

Sixty-two percent of voters in Southwestern counties and 57 percent in the Central counties -- where drilling has been common -- back a natural gas tax.

Lester Knox, 74, a Democrat, said he can look out the windows of his home in Dawson, Fayette County, and see a well pad on a neighbor's property. He said he does not receive royalty payments, but tolerates the nuisance of frequent truck traffic past his home. A tax, he said, would ensure everyone gets some benefit.

Mary Miriello, 60, a Monongahela Democrat, said her daughter's boyfriend just took a job in the Marcellus gas industry, but she thinks a gas tax could help the state budget without hurting the industry. She said she expects Corbett to change his mind to favor a tax once he realizes the extent of the state's problems.

Pennsylvania's projected budget deficit is $4 billion.

"With the revenue they're going to be earning on that gas, we should have a tax on it," said Dale Grimm, 66, a York County Republican who voted for Democrat Dan Onorato in the governor's race. "We tax everything else. This would be a good way to get the billions of dollars for the deficit we now face and it wouldn't hurt Pennsylvania citizens."

Not so fast, said Sherry Frei, 59, a DuBois Republican who opposes a gas tax. Frei contends that such a levy tax could have an negative impact on Pennsylvanians if it discourages the industry from growing here.

"We need to get more industry into the state," she said. "I don't know if they would go away, but it would make it more difficult."

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