Gas Fuels Growth

The national economy is in a slump, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and economic growth is being hampered by misguided policies. Meanwhile, Bradford County, Pennsylvania led the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in net job growth from March of 2009 through March of 2010 with 2500 new jobs or a 7.2% employment increase. The robust increase in jobs is a direct result of Marcellus Shale drilling and its ancillary economic benefits.

Immeasurable are the economic benefits from the countless subcontractors and their employees. Main Street store fronts are occupied throughout Bradford County while hotels are being planned and constructed, restaurants are booming, and many mom and pop businesses are not only being saved they are seeing opportunity and prosperity as never witnessed before.

Marcellus drilling activity has allowed out of work men and women to earn a paycheck and feed their families. While others in the country are idled by unemployment, workers in Bradford County are learning and developing job skills. Trained workers ensure the area is attractive to prospective employers, which will lead to increased job creation and a diversified workforce.

The family farm is the soul of Bradford County. Over the years, farms have been sold due to low milk prices, high energy costs, and misguided agriculture policy. Government has implemented costly farm preservation programs with limited success. Marcellus Shale development has preserved more farmland than any government program at zero taxpayer expense. Bradford County farmers continue to feed America while meeting its energy demands.

The prosperity in Bradford County, however, is now threatened by spendthrift legislators and Governor Rendell. Due to years of budgetary mismanagement and fiscal recklessness, Pennsylvania’s bloated government is seeking more of your money. Rather than cutting expenses, Harrisburg is eying the growth in not just Bradford County but all of the Marcellus counties and determined to grab our wealth under the guise of a severance tax.

Proposals for a severance tax on our natural resources will inflict another onerous tax burden on property owners and private enterprise. This capital and job destroying tax will also mandate revenue generated from gas wells in Pennsylvania be directed to the state general fund. These funds would be diverted to bus and train systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, welfare programs, and failing school systems. Every dollar a severance tax stripped from Bradford County would be directed to Harrisburg’s general fund and there is no guarantee it would be allocated locally.

The gas industry isn’t asking for grants or tax breaks from a state government notorious for its tax and regulatory pitfalls. Rather, the amount of taxes generated from this industry is astounding. Billions of dollars in lease and royalty payments are subject to the state’s personal income tax. Marcellus Shale development is generating millions of dollars from sales, liquid fuels, hotel, and property taxes.

Absent the severance tax, companies developing the Marcellus Shale have invested tens of millions of dollars in local infrastructure, donated generously to local charities, and most importantly, have provided thousands of Bradford County families with substantial paychecks. Local governments are working assiduously with industry to mitigate infrastructure and environmental concerns. Any concerns raised about Marcellus Shale development are being resolved locally. A severance tax would only impede the economic growth while stymieing cooperation between industry and government. Frankly, local officials and community leaders will address Bradford County’s needs without Harrisburg grabbing its resources and wealth.

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Douglas McLinko is a county commissioner in Bradford County, PA