I recently attended a House Republican policy roundtable focused on natural gas development at the Hilton Garden Inn in Southpointe. As I listened to the discussion, it was clear that our business climate – high taxes and regulatory uncertainty – was making Pennsylvania uncompetitive and causing less capital investment at a time when we need it most, especially here in Washington County.
At one point the inevitable question came up: How will a severance tax effect the natural gas industry, the companies dependent on it and job creation in the commonwealth? The discussion that transpired got me thinking.
Pennsylvania competed fiercely against Ohio and West Virginia to attract Shell to build their cracker pant in our region, because our policymakers knew this investment would create the industrial revolution of our generation.
Looking past the jobs that the plant will bring, it will be making a product that is used in manufacturing plastic. Manufacturers will be running to our region to be close to the raw materials they need, and the low-cost energy to fire their plants will be a major added value. This new resurgence in manufacturing means more businesses can thrive and hire more people, putting more money into the state’s economy. The opportunity for new jobs and prosperity because Pennsylvania was able to attract Shell is tremendous. And to secure that investment, the state approved certain tax breaks and incentives because it knew that we needed this cracker plant in Pennsylvania.
Now, however, we find ourselves faced with an absurd scenario. Before Shell has fully committed, we are considering a severance tax on the very industry that would supply Shell. This industry has invested billions of dollars in Pennsylvania, and has brought us jobs, boosted our economy and happily agreed pay a special impact fee to our local governments. They never once asked for a tax break.
Harrisburg fought hard to attract the Shell cracker plant to Pennsylvania, but if Gov. Tom Wolf and some lawmakers get their way, we will squander this opportunity. We will also be squandering all the manufacturing, jobs and economic stability that our region needs.