Schools report on how they would put restored funding to use

| 10 Jun 2015 | 04:38

School districts were hit hard by state funding cuts over the past several years. Gov. Wolf's first state budget proposal would help fix that; not only by restoring $400 million in basic education funding in 2015-16, but by using a large share of the revenue from a natural gas severance tax in 2016-17 and beyond to invest in schools.

The Wolf administration asked districts how they would use the funds, and over 90 percent responded. The results are not surprising. Expanding full-day kindergarten, pre-K, and other early childhood programs were common answers. Restoring support staff, nurses, and counselors — after many staff cuts — and reducing classroom sizes were also frequent responses.

Funding for these program increases, staff restorations, and classroom-size reductions are dependent on new revenues — including a proposed severance tax on natural gas. While public support for the tax paid in every other major oil- and gas-producing state (but not yet in Pennsylvania) is high, the oil and gas industry is fighting hard to defeat it.

We are testifying at a joint Senate Environmental Resources and Energy/Finance Committee hearing on the proposed severance tax — but it will be an uphill battle as the agenda is dominated by oil and gas and business interests that will likely oppose any tax at any time.

Many lawmakers have said they favor a reasonable severance tax and support more education funding. The two are linked in the 2015-16 budget, and new funding won't magically appear.

As Chesapeake Energy said in 2009, "We gladly pay a severance tax in every state where we're active, except New York and Pennsylvania." The sky won't fall, and the industry won't be crippled if a tax they pay everywhere else is enacted in Pennsylvania.

It is time to let our lawmakers hear that we support this common tax on big oil and gas. If we don't speak now, the oil and gas industry wins, and our kids lose.

Michael Wood
The Keystone Research Center