Severance Tax at Odds with State Constitution

Earlier this week, Nate Benefield blogged on the unconstitutional process of the House-passed natural gas severance tax bill (SB 1155). This bill did not originate in the House, as required for all revenue raising bills; it changed the “original purpose” of the bill, which is prohibited; and it might be in violation of existing land lease contracts, which the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits new legislation from breaching.

House Democrats aren’t worried about the breaking of these constitutional details ( subscription required), as the party’s spokesman Brett Marcy said, “We are confident the bill we passed out of the House with bipartisan support would withstand a court challenge.”

As reported, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman thinks otherwise:

My advice would be to tell the House to go back, do it over right this time, so it will pass constitutional muster. It is silly to go through a negotiated process and get to a bill when we know the courts are very likely to throw it out due to clear constitutional problems.

This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Scarnati’s chief of staff who in an email wrote, “Another option [to passing SB 1155], as Mr. Brouillette suggests, is to have the House pass a better vehicle.” This was spurred after CF President Matthew Brouillette inquired about the Senate’s willingness to proceed with a clearly unconstitutional bill.

Hopefully, the Senate will reject SB 1155 on constitutional grounds, and require the House to go back and follow the Constitutional process correctly. While, the Senate members will undoubtedly receive some backlash for not having the severance tax passed by the Oct. 1st deadline, they can also remind their Democratic counterparts that the only oath they’ve taken is to uphold the Constitution, and that the Constitution’s lawmaking process is not just a series of “suggestions”.  They might also remind the House Democrats that they also failed to pass the Independent Fiscal Office that was part of the very same deal.