Citing a need for major infrastructure improvements across the state, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a new initiative to invest $4.5 billion over the next four years in technology, development and infrastructure.
Wolf said he plans to fund the effort, dubbed Restore Pennsylvania, through a severance tax on natural gas producers in the state, a levy he pushed unsuccessfully in his first term as governor. Republican lawmakers generally opposed the tax.
Among Wolf’s targets for funding is high-speed internet access.
“Currently, 800,000 people in Pennsylvania don’t have access to high-speed internet,” he said during a press conference in Harrisburg.
Restore Pennsylvania would fund the installation of infrastructure needed to bring the technology to areas in the state that don’t currently have it.
The initiative also would provide funding for storm water management and flood prevention in areas that are prone to flooding, a burden that has largely fall on local governments so far. Work would include upgrading flood walls and levees as well as stream restoration and maintenance.
It would also establish a disaster relief fund to assist flood victims who are not compensated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As the state produces more natural gas, Wolf said it is important to put in place infrastructure than can get the fuel to businesses and homes. Providing that natural gas infrastructure would also be a part of Restore Pennsylvania.
According to Wolf, there are more than 300,000 properties across the state that are considered blighted.
“Blight reduces property values and makes properties less attractive for investment,” he said.
To help remedy blight problems, Wolf said Restore Pennsylvania would provide funds to local municipalities to address blight through demolition and remediation in order to provide space for new development.
Part of the funding would go to improving the state’s roadways through resurfacing, repaving and repair work.
It would also support new capital projects at public transit systems throughout the state.
Wolf said implementing a severance tax on gas producers is a smart way to fund these needed projects, and reflects what other gas-producing states are doing.
“It is far past time that Pennsylvanians stop allowing our commonwealth to be the only state losing out on the opportunity to reinvest in our communities,” said Governor Wolf.
Sen. Tom Killion (R-Philadelphia), who also spoke at the Restore Pennsylvania event, backed the severance tax plan.
“We can no longer afford to lose billions of dollars by not having a sensible severance tax on drillers,” Killion said.
Wolf also noted that Restore Pennsylvania’s plans to extend natural gas pipelines to areas of future development will also help gas producers earn more revenue, which would mean the state could be getting even more revenue from natural gas.
House Republican leaders are issuing the following statement reacting the governor's proposal:
“The governor's proposal includes three of the worst ways to grow an economy: taxing, borrowing and uncontrolled government spending.
“While improving Pennsylvania's aging infrastructure is a shared goal, it cannot come at the expense of the Commonwealth's economy and taxpayers.
“Unfortunately, the governor has not included the General Assembly in the development of this proposal. If he had, he would know that there are not enough votes to enact a new energy tax, borrow billions of dollars and spend monies on more government programs.”
(Story updated to include Republican response.)