Week in review: PA governor’s race keeps frack tax debate in public view


By PA Independent Staff

The race for Pennsylvania governor trudged on this week, again drawing attention to the lingering question of whether the state should impose a severance tax on the natural gas industry.

At the state Capitol, lawmakers rallied for victims’ rights after a convicted cop-killer gave a commencement address at a small Vermont college.

LOOKING BACK: The debate over a severance tax won’t go away. Much of that is because of the governor’s race.

And in the southeastern corner of the state, students at two magnet high schools protested after Philadelphia teachers were hit with a big surprise when the School Reform Commission terminated their contract and said teachers must pay for their health care now.

Here’s a look back at this week’s coverage:

Billion-dollar windfall or job-killer? Candidates for governor still at odds over gas tax

Gov. Tom Corbett continues to trail his opponent Tom Wolf, and he seems increasingly isolated in his opposition to a severance tax on fracking.

Corbett has been criticized for not endorsing the tax, which some project could raise $1 billion a year. At the same time, one industry advocate warns such taxes can impact far more than just fracking companies.

“Capital flows like water — it will find the path of least resistance,” said Travis Windle, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He said the industry already is “responsible for nearly $2.8 billion in tax and fee revenues” and works with 1,347 different businesses across the state.

Some Pennsylvania residents also remain skeptical of a severance tax on fracking — especially because it might eliminate the current impact-fee system, which has brought in over $600 million.

Will cutting teacher benefits save Philadelphia schools?

Jake Howie, a sophomore at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, didn’t go to class Wednesday morning.

Instead, he was one of 170 students to protest the School Reform Commission’s stunning decision to cut teachers’ health care benefits to plug the gaping hole in the school budget.

Cy Wolfe, a junior at CAPA, and Leo Levy, a junior at Science Leadership School, used Facebook to organize and promote the protest, which is just the latest in the ongoing saga over Philadelphia’s school funding woes.

The SRC’s decision will save an estimated $50 million this year, as teachers who once contributed nothing toward their health benefits will have to pay between $70 and $200 a month.

Lawmakers vow to increase victims’ rights

Speaking from the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy, convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal on Sunday delivered the commencement address to about two dozen students at Goddard College, a progressive liberal arts school in Vermont.

Corbett and some state lawmakers want to find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again, saying the speech opened old wounds for the family of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia police officer that Abu-Jamal killed in 1981.

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, would allow the victim of a crime or prosecutors acting on the victim’s behalf to file a civil action to stop conduct from an offender that causes severe mental anguish.

“We hope to never use this law,” Vereb said. “We hope that the actual people that sit in prison recognize that they themselves are there to heal, not tear the scabs off the wounds of our victims some 30 years later.”

Supreme Court lays to rest death-industry appeal without discussion

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide a case about state-level regulations for Pennsylvania funeral homes — among many others.

Funeral home director Ernie Heffner and 29 others successfully challenged many parts of Pennsylvania’s 1952 Funeral Directors Law in district court. The May 2012 ruling called those regulations a “protectionist regime” that was “outdated and patently unconstitutional.”

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and mostly reversed that decision. With the Supreme Court declining the appeal, the current regulatory scheme stands.

Asante says school changed his life

MK Asante defied the odds, and he credits a private school with his success.

Statistics show that 72 percent of black males drop out of Philadelphia schools. Asante was one of them. He was also a drug dealer.

Now, in his best-selling memoir, “Buck,” Asante said The Crefeld School changed his life. Today, he is a tenure professed, acclaimed other and a filmmaker.

Union reformer calls proposed open-records change ‘taxpayer-funded stupidity’

What would happen if the state decided it should notify public employees if somebody used the Right-To-Know Law to request a record with home addresses on them, as a proposed overhaul to the open-records law suggests?

It would be a mess, said Simon Campbell, president of Pennsylvanians for Union Reform. Taking the rhetoric a step further, he said it would be ‘taxpayer-funded stupidity,’ and he believes he has first-hand experience that proves it, too.

While notification currently isn’t required under the law, the Office of Open Records last year ordered the State Employees Retirement System to notify all its members — a group of more than 230,000 employees and retirees — that they could participate in an ongoing open-records dispute between Campbell and the agency.

SERS spent $91,662 to send notifications to 187,338 of its members. It’s an extreme example, given that the proposed changes would only relate to current employees and not retirees, but one that Campbell thinks should have lawmakers giving the issue a second thought.