What About the Constitution, Governor?

Recently Nate Benefield explained how Senate Bill 1155, which creates a severance tax on natural gas drilling companies, is unconstitutional. Katrina Currie subsequently updated the story:

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….

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.”

It might surprise you that PennFuture seems to believe the bill is unconstitutional in their unquenchable pursuit of a severance tax. In last week’s edition of their “Session Daze” newsletter they said as much:

Some Republican senators claim that there are constitutional issues with the severance tax legislation passed by the House. But the Senate has a range of options that it could use to pass a severance tax (emphasis PennFuture’s), including House bills on both taxation and gas drilling.

There is no excuse for the Senate not to pass a severance tax next week. Governor Rendell made this argument in a pointed letter sent to Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday.

But Rendell’s letter seems to favor the current unconstitutional legislation:

I understand that in your estimation, the bill passed by the house is inherently flawed. I am certain there are ways to resolve the problems associated with the bill or its construct. What’s important here is that the House lived up to its end of the bargain and passed a tax bill for your consideration (emphasis mine)It’s now time for you to make the next move to bring this matter to a close and say what you believe makes sense on the specifics of rate, approach and the use of the funds….

I am not interested in being party to bickering over vehicles or flawed statutory constructs. (emphasis mine) Neither are the people of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s roads, water ways and other state and local infrastructure are being overburdened by the expansion of natural gas drilling. The time has come for these companies to stop taxing our resources and challenging our environment and instead for us to tax them and apply these new revenues to improve our communities and protect our environment.

Yeah, why quibble over Constitutionality, when we’re eager to get our hands on another pot of money to go hog wild in Harrisburg with?