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Legislator: Don't let Wolf scrap Pennsylvania impact fee

| Friday, April 3, 2015, 1:54 p.m.

SUNBURY — Area lawmakers asked members of the Northumberland County Conservation District to remain vigilant in fighting Gov. Tom Wolf's proposal to scrap the Marcellus Shale impact fee in lieu of a severance tax.

In remarks at the district's annual legislative luncheon Thursday, Sen. John Gordner (R-27) and Rep. Kurt Masser (R-108) spoke against Wolf's proposal. In her overview of the work the conservation district is doing, district manager Judy Becker noted the funding provided by Act 13 — the impact fee.

“Between that fee and the transportation bill funding, it really helps to bridge the gaps so we can continue the programs we do,” Becker said.

Gordner asked the district to stay focused on keeping the Act 13 funding plan passed in 2012 in place.

“The governor says he will keep intact the number of recipients that receive the funding, but the amount of funding will be frozen at $225 million. That doesn't leave a lot of room for growth,” Gordner said.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission reported that, while there are no wells in the county, Northumberland County received $90,297 in 2013 from the impact fee, which is awarded to counties that are in some way impacted by the drilling. By comparison, Bradford County, where there were 1,224 wells, received more than $7 million in funding.

Northumberland County's funding comes from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund, which gives money to counties, regardless of if there are gas wells within its borders, to fund environmental initiatives.

Gordner said Wolf's proposed severance fee is based on a price of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet for natural gas; however, Pennsylvania natural gas drillers and producers get an average price of $1.50 to $2.40, with the price spiking to $2.87 last winter when sub-zero temperatures hit.

“It's the equivalent of saying that if you make $40,000 a year, the government is going to tax you at a rate as if you made $100,000 a year,” Gordner said.

Masser piled on regarding Wolf's economic policies, saying the new governor ran on being the “Education Governor” but proposed a budget that suggests otherwise.

“Penn State University would receive a 23 to 24 percent increase in funding, but funding through the college for agricultural research and extension education — like is offered here at the conservation district — flat-lined,” Masser said.

Wolf's plan to increase the earned income and sales tax would result in a 40 percent increase in the sales tax and a 20 percent increase in income taxes, Masser said.

“This all comes when we have a crisis in Pennsylvania with our pension system that no one is addressing,” Masser said.

District board chairman Dave Crowl thanked the lawmakers for their candid comments, saying that if Thursday's luncheon did anything, it sparked a debate among district members and alerted them to possible funding changes.

In his budget address, Wolf said, “This is not a partisan idea. It's a recognition that Pennsylvanians are right now getting a bad deal. We deserve to be fairly compensated for the use of our resources.”

Giving the district praise was Northumberland County Commissioner and district board member Rich Shoch.

“The NCCD is a great model on how to implement programs in a cost-effective manner,” Shoch said. “We have worked hard to keep the funding we give intact, which in Northumberland County takes a lot of doing.”

County planning director Pat Mack said it's a pleasure working with NCCD on grant applications.

“Anyone can talk about how well the Act 13 program works, we've lived it,” Mack said. “The first round of applications we made, we had $500,000 for the district and the AOAA.”

Crowl said NCCD is known in Harrisburg for its thorough work on grant applications.

“Please remember us,” Crowl said to the lawmakers. “If there is any chance for sustainable, predictable funding year after year, please remember us.”

As it is, Masser and Gordner, representing Rep. Lynda Schlegel, who was not able to attend, presented the district with a $202,571 Growing Greener grant. The grant will help NCCD's Northumberland Barnyard Stabilization Project, funding improvements to a 200-head heifer operation in Delaware Township at the headwaters of Dry Run and a 50-head dairy operation in Rush Township on an unnamed tributary of the Susquehanna River.

Both projects will ultimately help meet the clean water goals as set forth by the Northumberland County Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy.

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