Gov. Tom Wolf plans to fund his proposed $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania initiative infrastructure plan via a gas severance tax, reported PennLive. At a recent press conference, the governor said state funding is the only way to ensure rural broadband expansion. “We’re the only natural gas-producing state in the country without a severance tax. We need that kind of state support,” said Gov. Wolf.
Many Pennsylvanians currently lack broadband internet, including businesses and schools. “Fast-growth, digitally-native businesses like ours are extremely dependent on broadband internet,” said Yoga International CEO Todd Wolfenberg, whose business is located in a rural area. “Those businesses can only grow and recruit top talent if high-speed internet is readily available.”
The state legislature has long pushed back on Wolf’s proposed severance tax, arguing that broadband expansion should rely less on tax dollars and more on private investment. “To me, this whole Restore PA thing is more about him [Wolf] getting a severance tax,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.
According to Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, there is still some research to be done. “[Questions] need to be answered before we indebt ourselves,” she said. “It’s a great goal, but there’s not a lot of detail about how we’re going to do it.”
Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative President/CE Craig Eccher, whose company has expanded broadband across the state, said it’s already done as much as it can without government help. According to Eccher, a sparse amount of customers in rural areas make expansion costly.
Currently, the Restore PA proposal is on the legislative back burner, partly due to its planned funding via a severance tax. However, legislators have previously told PennLive the initiative will be discussed, at the earliest, this fall.
July 22, 2019