State Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Republican who represents our region, defended Act 13, the formal name for the impact fee imposed by the Legislature on natural gas drilling companies this year. Everett, interviewed at Sun-Gazette offices, graded the Legislature's performance this session "in the B range." We will meet him halfway.
We agree with him that the impact fee, though it has its imperfection, is a solid piece of legislation because it allocates the funds from gas companies to the counties that need revenue to pay for infrastructure and other needs created by gas drilling. A straight severance tax that would have gone into the state's General Fund would have been a disaster, leaving too much chance that the gas drilling money would have been applied to other state needs.
As for the B grade, we can't agree. The Legislature needs to make some fundamental changes in the way our state government operates and has thus far come up short in that area.
The liquor store system has needed privatization for more than a decade. Visit any other state and it will be quickly evident that consumers have greater selection at lower prices and products are available at more and varied locations. It's called free enterprise.
Sale of the stores to private interests and ongoing fees also would have produced millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, a fresh revenue stream sorely needed by a state struggling with debt and an uncertain overall economy.
The turnpike system should have been leased to private interests when the proposal was on the table a few years ago and the idea should be revisited. Again, fresh dollars and greater efficiency are the viable carrots. The pension system for state workers needs fundamentally changed before it drowns the state in debt in coming years. The payout costs in upcoming years are unsustainable without radical reform.
The Legislature is doing some good things, particularly in the handling of the natural gas industry and the past two state budgets. But in the next session it must make some fundamental changes that would streamline the size and responsibilities of state government while creating much-needed revenue streams.