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The pressure mounts on Kathleen Kane, this time from the PA Supreme Court.

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Another official falls in the cash for favors sting Attorney General Kane refused to prosecute.

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A shooting in Westmoreland County has left one dead and put the entire county on guard for more potential violence as the shooter remains at large.

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Montgomery County DA Risa Ferman is investigating charges AG Kane fired Attorney James Barker as retaliation against Barker for testifying against her.

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Paul Gordon Collier- At a speech delivered today at Caln Elementary School in Thorndale, PA, Governor Tom Wolf hinted at a move that will be sure to stir up controversy in the gas industry.

During the speech, which was the kickoff to Governor Wolf’s “Schools that Teach Tour”, the Governor outlined a plan for taxing the value of natural gas, as well as adding a fixed state fee based on cubic feet estimates of Marcellus Shale Natural gas. This is being called a severance tax.

The tax revenue Wolf estimates to generate from this plan would amount to $1 billion a year. He has already earmarked that tax revenue to go to public schools. During the speech, Wolf cited the ‘cuts’ his predecessor made, Governor Tom Corbett, to education spending, promising to restore those cuts through this proposed severance tax plan.

(See our October 2014 Article addressing the debate on whether these were cuts or not)

Governor Wolf detailed a plan that would place a 5 percent tax on the estimated value of the gas based on the current market price, as well as a 4.7 cent tax per thousand cubic feet of estimated Marcellus Shale natural gas.

In a key part of this speech, Governor Wolf said, “We can get Pennsylvania back on track, and we can start by passing a commonsense severance tax that will help fund our schools – an idea with bipartisan support. The commonwealth ranks 45th in the nation in percentage of state funding for public education, and, as a result, we have seen larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and vital program cuts. These cuts have made it more difficult for students to get a strong education in Pennsylvania’s public schools. This is the right thing to do for our children and our economy and to move Pennsylvania forward.

In May of 2014, when the Wolf campaign was floating around the idea of a severance tax, Tom Shepstone, in an article on naturalgasnow.org (a pro-natural gas industry organization) had this to say about the plan, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a poor strategy, no matter how much Paul may applaud it. West Virginia, relatively speaking, has the highest state tax burden of any oil and gas state examined. The Pennsylvania severance tax proposal would move us closer to West Virginia and stymie what we have. It’s foolish. Robbing Peter never works.”

In a poll taken back in June of 2014, commissioned by the same group, Natural Gas Now, the numbers present a mixed opinion from Pennsylvanians on the idea of a severance tax:
“Among the three-quarters of voters who have been following the natural gas severance tax debate, 55% favor adding it, 34% oppose it, and the remainder is not sure. Just one-third (33%) favor a severance tax if it results in jobs leaving the state while 58% oppose it if it costs jobs.”

If Pennsylvanians make a connection between jobs and the severance tax, then support for the tax drops to 33 percent. If no connection can be shown between the severance tax and it having a negative effect on jobs, then support is strong at 55%.

The PA State Senate has 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats while the General Assembly has 119 Republicans to 84 Democrats. By coupling the severance tax with increases in the PA Education Budget, Wolf has a chance to put pressure on the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate. A battle in the legislature, which, at present, may seem to be a losing battle for Wolf, could set up a key issue for democrats to run on in 2016.

The Education budget was a central theme of the Wolf campaign, and many view the recent election as a mandate by Pennsylvania voters to increase spending in the education budget. Republicans counter that there is no such mandate, that Corbett’s handling of the Joe Paterno firing had more of an effect on the election than did the debate over education spending.

It should be noted that the same electorate that sent Governor Wolf to Harrisburg also sent record numbers of Republicans to Harrisburg in the Assembly and the Senate. However, the Wolf campaign did run on a platform focused on education spending.

Regardless of whether or not the Governor has a mandate, the fight in the legislature is sure to be a fiery one. If the Governor does have a mandate, if the Pennsylvania voters do not make a connection between the severance tax and potential job losses, then the democrats may just have a winning issue for 2016.

Here is the full policy memorandum outlined by Wolf to PA Legislators:

Pennsylvania’s schools have suffered from $1 billion in funding cuts and a lack of resources. We have seen larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and program cuts that make it more difficult for students to get a strong education in Pennsylvania’s public schools. If we are going to get our Commonwealth back on track and be competitive in the 21st century economy, we must provide our young people with the educational foundation necessary to be successful.

Pennsylvania currently ranks 45th in the nation in the percentage of funding the state provides for public education. This is intolerable. Pennsylvania must take the lead in investing in early childhood, K-12, and higher education.
With Pennsylvania sitting on one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world, it is up to us to use this resource wisely so it benefits all Pennsylvanians and helps to fund our schools.

Pennsylvania is currently the only major gas-producing state in the country that does not charge a tax on oil and natural gas extraction – and we’re failing to tax this resource at a time when our schools need more funding. If states like Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma are able to charge a severance tax to fund key priorities, it is long past time Pennsylvania does too.

In order to ensure that we are appropriately funding education at all levels, I am today proposing the Pennsylvania Education Reinvestment Act. This will raise needed new revenue for our state’s public education system by imposing a reasonable tax – in line with our neighbors – on the extraction of natural gas within the state.

The tax proposed in the Education Reinvestment Act will be modeled after the severance tax in neighboring West Virginia, which like Pennsylvania has seen a recent boom in production of natural gas from unconventional drilling.

Implementing a similar structure to West Virginia will ensure that Pennsylvania is competitive with neighboring states. In addition, this approach has the benefit of being field tested. West Virginia offers proof that a state can build a thriving unconventional natural gas industry while simultaneously using a portion of the proceeds to help make a better future for its citizens.

I am proposing a 5% plus 4.7 cents per MCF tax. My proposal would not be on top of the existing impact fee but includes it. My proposal would continue the payments made to communities impacted by drilling that are currently funded by the impact fee.

We can get Pennsylvania back on track, and we can start by passing a commonsense severance tax that will help fund our schools – an idea with bipartisan support. At a time when our budget is facing significant challenges and our schools are struggling, it simply makes sense to pass a competitive, commonsense severance tax.

Key Features
Tax of:
• 5% of the value of gas at the wellhead;
• 4.7¢ per thousand cubic feet of volume severed.
Reasonable exemptions for:
• gas given away free;
• gas from low producing wells;
• wells brought back into production after not having produced marketable quantities of gas.

A tax with this structure is expected to generate over a billion dollars in fiscal year 2017 with revenue expected to grow with production. This number is based on the following estimates of production from both conventional and unconventional wells:
• 2015: 4,915.0 bcf
• 2016: 4,978.2 bcf
• 2017: 5,065.3 bcf
• 2018: 5,114.0 bcf
• 2019: 5,186.2 bcf
• 2020: 5,265.5 bcf
Finally, the Education Reinvestment Act will contain provisions to protect property owners who lease land for natural gas exploration. No portion of the tax imposed in this legislation will be allowed to be deducted from royalty payments.
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Governor Tom Wolf

STAFF- Governor Tom Wolf has raised the pay for government employees, lifting a freeze on COLAs (Cost of Living Increase) which previous Governor Tom Corbett imposed.

Governor Wolf will be raising the salaries of his Cabinet officials to levels that assumed COLAs would have been applied for the years in which they were imposed. This lifting of the COLA freeze will affect 19 government departments and cost an additional $230,346 this year, a year in which Governor Wolf comes in facing a $4.2 billion deficit.

We find this perspective from the Tioga County PA Dems-
” I wonder why the right thinks a boss should not give his employees raises just because he works in government? I think Wolf is just trying to take care of his employees like a good boss. – Jason”

We find this from an editorial carried by triblive.com

“Think greed, arrogance, entitlement and self-service before public service.  So much for Tom Wolf’s “unconventional governor” pledge. Making a show of his own frugality, he plunders taxpayers’ pockets to fill those of his top officials.”

What’s your opinion? Is this a demonstration of a good boss doing right by his employees or is this a demonstration of bad government taking money away from the citizens to pay itself? Share your opinion with us on our Facebook page or email us at tioga@freedomist.com

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Acting PA State Police Commissioner, Col. Marcus Brown

Paul Gordon Collier- Before Governor Tom Wolf took office, he selected a new PA State Police Commissioner, Col. Marcus Brown, to replace Col. Frank R. Noonon.  Noonan was from Clarks Summit PA, Brown was coming off of a position as the Superintendent of the Maryland State Police.

At the time, Tom Wolf had this to say about his selection, “Colonel Marcus Brown has been in law enforcement for 25 years and has improved each law agency he has led.  As the head of the Maryland State Police, he led a commitment to a diverse workforce by recruiting in areas with high minority populations and historically black colleges.  As a result of his leadership, the Maryland State Police is one of the most diverse agencies in the region.”

Brown is the current acting commissioner until he gets confirmed in the PA Senate.  That confirmation faces a new challenge, not based on Brown’s law enforcement experience, but on what he wears.

Brown’s previous law enforcement experience was in California.  What’s missing from Brown’s resume is any PA State Police experience or certification. Coming in from the outside, Brown’s selection is causing waves in the department that may have found expression in a Facebook group started by retired PSP Trooper, Thomas Stuckey.  The Name of the Facebook page is “he didn’t earn it, he shouldn’t wear it.”

What Stuckey is referring to is the uniform that Brown now wears, one which, Stuckey claims, is only earned if you go through the PSP Academy, which Brown has not.  The Facebook group has over 2400 members and counting, mostly retired PSP troopers.

Stuckey does not have an issue with Brown being the Police Commissioner, he only has a problem with Brown wearing the uniform.  Stuckey explains,  “You don’t see the secretary of defense putting on an army uniform. You don’t see the secretary of the navy putting on a navy uniform. Those uniforms are earned.”

The Wolf administration has answered this critique through their spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, who said,“Colonel Brown believes that he should wear the uniform in order to represent the organization because he has such tremendous respect for the men and women who every day wear that uniform and are out on the streets.”

It should be noted that two other PA State Police Commissioners, Dan Dunn and Frank Noonan, who did not go through the PSP Academy chose not to wear the uniform.

While the Stuckey group was created in response to Brown’s decision to wear the PA State uniform, the issue of Governor Wolf hiring a PA State Commissioner from outside the PA State Police ranks has riled some.  Wolf’s move is seen by some within the PSP community as telegraphing an adversarial nature with the PSP right at the beginning of his 4-year term.  Others applaud Wolf, believing that the PSP needs a fresh perspective to help create more diversity in the ranks.

Here are some of the comments from the Facebook page:

Ken SmithHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

It takes a LOT to EARN that uniform. Most people don’t even KNOW what it takes, even BEFORE putting your life on the line. For this POLITICIAN to wear the PSP uniform MAKES ME SICK!

Janet DeLucaHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

Were there not any PSP officers that could fill this position?

Pollyanna Vastine BarrallHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

This is a joke. My husband EARNED the right to wear a Pennsylvania State Police uniform. He put in the time and is still protecting and enforcing to the bestof his ability.

You want to wear it? Earn it. Just because you are appointed doesn’t give you the right to act like you went through the paces for that honor.

That’s a disgrace!

Duffy MargesonHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

Dan Dunn and Frank Noonan had respect for the uniform and those who DID earn it, so they did not wear it. This new poser, wannabe statie obviously has no respect for either.

Morgan MercerHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

I am the daughter of a retired state police men and I think this is absolutely appalling. Troopers put blood, sweat, and hard work into finishing the academy and the uniform is a symbol for that, among other things. Brown wearing this violates that symbol and is an insult to all troopers who have put in the hours. That he would have the audacity to think he deserves wearing it says a lot about him

Here is the latest from Tom Stuckey himself,

Tom StuckeyHe didn’t earn it He shouldn’t wear it

All !!! I want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement!! I have just completed calling all the Pa Senate reps. and asking them to NOT confirm Mr. Brown. I did an interview with FOX43 today that will be on at 5&6 tonight. Please call your Senators!!! Some have not heard of this. I will continue to push until Mr. Brown is removed. Grey88 / Grey Nation!!

The group has gained an additional 500+ likes in the past 24 hours and appears to be catching momentum, with an effort galvanizing around stopping the confirmation of Brown in the Republican-controlled PA State Senate.

Our region’s State Senator is Republican Joe Scarnati.  If you would like to call Scarnati to either support or oppose the confirmation of Col. Marcus Brown, you can call his Harrisburg office at 717-787-7084

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