Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Marsellus Shale

Will former State Rep Paul Drucker challenge State Rep Warren Kampf for the 157th District in 2012?

Is former State Rep Paul Drucker considering a 2012 run against State Rep Warren Kampf? You be the judge.

In my post, ‘Tea Party Agenda by State Rep. Warren Kampf, so claims Former State Rep Paul Drucker’ dated August 27th, I included Paul Ducker’s recent ‘As I See It’ editorial from the Main Line Media News.

Drucker claimed that Kampf was following the tea party agenda and gave examples of the education cuts in the state budget, the lack of taxing Marcellus Shale gas drilling and decreased state funding for social services. In reading the editorial, it was obvious that Drucker did not agree with some of Kampf’s choices since taking office in January. Although Drucker may not agree with Kampf’s governing approach, the article left me wondering what would he do differently? I also found the timing of the op-ed of interest; questioning why Drucker decided to write it ‘now’.

I came up with 6 questions for our former state representative and asked for a response by Wednesday, August 31. As I wrote on August 27, if Drucker responded to the questions, I would offer his answers on Community Matters. Below are my questions and Drucker’s answers. I offer Kampf the opportunity to respond to Drucker’s comments.

1. Why write the As I See It article ‘now’?

Representative Kampf has written a series of factually incorrect and misleading e-mails, which he has sent to residents of the 157 District, as well as opinion pieces for the newspaper. These communications are nothing more than his parroting the tea party line on important issues facing the Commonwealth. I felt it was important to correct errors and give context to the Republican majority’s priorities.

2. What do you think are the most challenging issues currently facing the residents of the 157 District?

There are many challenging issues that negatively affect Pennsylvania residents, but I will restrict my answer to the most challenging issue locally, and the most challenging issue statewide.

You don’t have to be a savant to realize the most challenging issue facing the 157th. This is obvious to anyone who drives through the commercial areas in the District or walks down Lancaster Avenue in Paoli. Empty storefronts abound. The focus needs to be on jobs, jobs, and jobs by supporting and encouraging business development. For example, the long awaited development of the Paoli Intermodal Train Station is a potential economic engine that will help turn us around and lead to an economic revival. It will provide short-term jobs. It will provide long-term jobs. It will create new residential, and commercial space. It will bring in new retail space, restaurants, apartments and housing. It will create additional tax ratables on what is now worthless property. It will create a TOWN CENTER. In Phoenixville, the development of the old steel site is also critical to the economic health of the district.

The most challenging issue facing the Commonwealth is equally obvious. We have a serious budget crisis. But it is not a crisis caused solely by expenditures and can’t be cured by making draconian cuts to education and the social services. The revenue side of the budget needs to be addressed realistically. This means analyzing and utilizing potential sources of revenue. Last year, the House passed a tax on Marcellus shale that was modeled after the West Virginia Marcellus tax. (I voted in favor of the bill) The Senate refused to approve the measure and it died. This year there is similar bill on the House floor that would produce $420 million in revenue in 2012. This would go a long way to supporting education and needed social programs. But at this point there is no Republican support, so the bill cannot even get out of committee.

3. If you had been re-elected as state representative, what would you be doing differently than State Rep Warren Kampf to address these issues?

To support economic revitalization and development in the 157th, I would pitch my tent in the office of Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph. I would make his office my satellite office. (Which is what I did when I was in the House) I would make Trans. Secy Schoch and House Transportation Chairman Geist my nbff. (Which is what I did when I was in the House) I would go to meetings. I would create meetings. I would convince everybody and anybody of the reality, vitality and economic importance of the Train Station and the steel site development, not only to the 157th, but also to the entire Delaware Valley and to the Commonwealth.

To address the revenue situation, I would immediately sign on as a cosponsor to H.B. 33. This is the Marcellus bill. I would go to State Representative Benninghoff, Chairman of the House Finance Committee and try to convince him to release the bill to the floor. (In fact, a discharge motion to force this bill to floor was defeated. Representative Kampf voted in lock step with his tea party cohorts to defeat the bill) I would talk to House Majority Leadership and attempt to get them to support the bill. I would let it be known that this bill is vital to closing our budget gap, and vital to protecting the environment of the communities where the drilling is taking place and the water shed of the entire Commonwealth.

4. Where do you think State Rep Kampf should focus his attention?

See above.

5. Do you think that the possible 157 District re-districting could play a role in the State Representative race of 2012? If so, why?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to get redistricted. Among other things, Chester County gained 65,000 people since the last redistricting and will get an additional seat in the State House of Representatives. Since the Republicans control the Senate, the House and the Governor, they control this process.

The only constitutional requirement is one of mathematics, one person, one vote. As long as each district is within the standard deviation of the mean the district passes muster. The district doesn’t even have to be contiguous. (I introduced a bill, that didn’t pass, that required many other factors to be taken into consideration when redistricting. This would have made the decision much more representative and made gerrymandering much more difficult)

There is no question that the Republicans will gerrymander any district they can if it will strengthen that district from a Republican perspective and if they can do so without weakening another corresponding Republican district. Whether on not that will impact the 157th remains to be seen.

6. Are you considering a 2012 run against State Rep Kampf?

This question is premature. I can say that I have remained involved in the affairs of the 157th and intend to continue to do so. I will support the citizens of this district any way that I can.

Corbett’s Budget – No Marsellus Shale Fee but $1.3 Million Restored Funding to T/E School District … Any Chance of a Rebate on 3.77% Property Tax Increase?

The fiscal year for Pennsylvania starts July 1 and for the first time in 8 years, a signed budget will meet the deadline. The Pennsylvania House Republicans passed the budget and all that awaits is Gov. Corbett’s signature.

In the last few days, there was a major battle over the projected revenue surplus. Expected to be close to $700 million, the Democrats wanted most of the money to go to the Department of Education to restore spending cuts to higher education and to school districts across the state. There was support from the Democrats that the revenue surplus should also help restore the funding cuts to human services. The Republicans argued that the $700 million should be held in reserve. The battle is over on this one – the revenue surplus will go to the ‘rainy day’ fund; although some might argue that we are living in the eye of the storm now.

Some are suggesting that this budget is not a ‘no-tax’ budget as has been touted but rather a ‘tax-shift’ budget. Using the ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ approach, the money is coming out of one pocket and going to another pocket. Theoretically, Corbett can claim that his budget does not include a tax increase to the taxpayer, the end result filters down locally. Pennsylvania taxpayers may not see an increase in state tax but due to the decrease in public education funding, school districts are forced to increase property taxes. Isn’t this shifting of the tax burden creating the same product? Whether it is at the state level of locally, the taxpayer will see an increase in taxes.

I received a copy of a ‘talking point’ statement circulated by the office of House minority leader Frank Demody (D). Among other things, it addressed the tax-shift notion of Corbett’s budget, claiming that, “. . . middle-class homeowners and seniors being forced to pick up the tab through higher local property tax hikes”. I uploaded the statement – click here for an interesting read.

Although the education cuts are not as severe as were contained in Corbett’s draft budget in March, significant cuts remain – approximately $860 million from public schools and funding to higher education remains scaled back. School districts will receive less funding than a year ago but certainly more than in the original March budget proposal.

Sen. Andy Dinniman, minority chair of the Senate Education Committee released the figures on the Chester County school districts. Collectively the 13 Chester County school districts will see state funding restored by $11+ million over the governor’s original budget. From Dinniman’s office, the followings list indicates the school district and the increase over Corbett’s proposal from March.

Avon Grove $ 280,716
Coatesville Area $1,987,156
Downingtown Area $ 949,310
Great Valley $ 750,487
Kennett Consolidated $ 405,560
Octara $ 120,294
Owen J. Roberts $ 785,118
Oxford Area $ 186,084
Spring-Ford Area $ 893,610
Phoenixville Area $ 825,756
Tredyffrin-Easttown $1,276,771
Unionville-Chadds Ford $ 827,233
West Chester Area $1,757,349

The timing of this information comes after the deadline for school district budgets. The T/E school board passed the 2011-12 school budget with a 3.77% property tax increase for taxpayers just a few weeks ago. The school budget passed 7-2 with school board members Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake casting the opposing votes. At the time, Brake who serves as the board’s legislative liaison, offered that he believed that some state public education funding would be restored. Although Brake did not have a crystal ball, he was estimating the amount could be $900K to $1 million. At $1.3 million in restored funding, T/E school district exceeded Brake’s expectation and was only behind Coatesville and West Chester on the county list.

For the record, T/E school district currently has $29 million in the fund balance. The $1.3 million will be additional revenue for the 2011-12 school year. Based on the restoration of $1.3 million in state funding, presumably there is no mechanism for the school board to recalculate and lower the approved 3.77% property tax increase. I guess it is not possible for TESD to offer some form of a rebate back to the taxpayers.

We have learned that the state budget does not contain imposition of a fee or tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Further discussion of imposing a natural gas extraction fee is off the table until at least the fall. Another topic that will take a break is the school voucher discussion. Although temporarily on hold, legislators will most likely take up that discussion after their two-month summer break. Transportation funding is also on hold until late summer or early fall.

Is the Answer to Pennsylvania’s Budget . . . Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

All eyes are on Harrisburg as the clock ticks down to the June 30 state budget deadline. Some say that to reach next week’s deadline would require a final budget in place by the end of today. At this point, Gov. Corbett appears intent on meeting the June 30 deadline . . . that by itself will mark a change from the past administration. I don’t recall if Ed Rendell’s budget was late all eight years of his administration but certainly most years.

There are some hurdles for Corbett’s budget before it is finalized. Some sticking points include whether the $300 million in Tobacco Settlement Fund revenue remains in the general fund as Corbett proposed in his preliminary budget. In the past, the tobacco fund revenue was not included in the general fund but helped fund social and welfare programs. There was a claim in March by Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Jack Wagner that over the past few years, over a $1 billion has quietly diverted from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to the general fund to help balance the state’s budget. You know the saying, ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

If the $300 million revenue from the Tobacco Settlement Fund were to come out of the general fund, it is possible that some of the spending cuts to basic and higher education and welfare programs could be restored. If you recall, Corbett’s preliminary budget announcement back in March indicated excess tax revenue of $78 million but to date, he has refused to increase spending. The state tax revenue in March and April of this year was higher than expected so it would seem to suggest that Corbett could afford to restore some of the education and welfare spending cuts.

Will Corbett’s final budget package include a Marcellus shale impact fee? My guess . . . highly unlikely. But the real question is why is the state not charging an extraction tax or impact fee to the drilling companies? It defies logic; I absolutely do not understand why the opposition to charging the companies– especially given the current and potential future damage to the environment and roads caused by the gas drilling.

I certainly do not claim to be any political guru; but when you look around this country and see that every other state is charging some form of a drilling tax, impact fee, or whatever you want to call it; it does beg the question, why doesn’t Pennsylvania? Is the answer so that Corbett can stand on his campaign promise of no new tax increase? Is the administration’s reluctance to impose a Marcellus shale fee have anything to do with campaign financing support? I wonder how much revenue the state has already lost and will continue to lose by not imposing a Marcellus shale impact fee.

As school districts across the state are challenged to balance their own budgets and taxpayers face property tax increases – again I have to ask, why not tax the Marcellus shale drilling companies.

Anniversary of Gulf of Mexico BP Spill Marked by another Fuel Spill . . . Marcellus Shale Environmental Disaster

On the anniversary of the blowout of BP’s deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, there is another fuel spill – this time much closer to home. Near Canton, PA thousands of gallons of chemical laced water has spilled due to a blowout at a natural gas well. Workers from Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of a Marcellus Shale well on Tuesday and the extent of the spillage remains unknown at this time.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is the country’s second largest producer of natural gas. The company particularly focuses on developing unconventional sources of onshore oil and gas. As of December 31, 2010, Chesapeake held 13.3 million net acres of land across the United States, on which the company has identified 38,000 drilling opportunities.

Chesapeake extracts natural gas by an unconventional method using the controversial drilling technique hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Significant environmental concerns surround this fracturing process – primarily how to dispose of the toxic drilling water is injected to break up the rock formations and release the gas. Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has become of the epicenter of the unconventional natural gas industry . . . and now marks the site of the latest fuel spill.

Fracking has long been a controversial issue, criticized by environmental groups for its potentially adverse effects on the environment. The chemicals used in fracking fluids have been a contentious subject, as many energy companies have long guarded them as a “trade secret”. Some opponents to fracking suggest that energy companies using this controversial fracking method have injected millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens, such as methanol, into wells across the country.

This latest chemical-laden fluid spill has contaminated Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River. A contaminated creek cannot be saved. Damage done. Reports are that the creek was stocked with trout on April 5th. The well blew out near the surface, causing fluid to run over containment walls, through fields, personal property, and farms “even where cattle continue to graze”. Local families have been forced to evacuate due the spill and do not know the future of their drinking water. Private drinking wells are being tested for contamination. Officials are warning farmers in the area that cattle should no longer drink from the stream.

This latest fuel spill has all the makings of an environmental disaster in northern Pennsylvania. How do you put a price tag on this kind of environmental damage? Is this the legacy of deregulation of natural gas? When asked to comment on the spill, one Harrisburg politician last night shrugged his shoulders and remarked, “no one was killed . . . mistakes happen”.

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