PA Dems so far hanging tough with Wolf against GOP veto override

(Hangin’ tough, in a funky way)

To override Tom Wolf’s veto of the fifth Tom Corbett budget Republicans have presented to him, Republicans need to get two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses to vote for that.

That means they need to get between 16 and 18 Democrats in the House to vote for the fifth Corbett budget, and 6-7 in the Senate.

But the most conservative Democrats in the House say that’s not happening, reports Charles Thompson.

A leader of the conservative wing of the state House Democratic Caucus said Monday House Republicans will have trouble finding the votes needed to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s June 30 budget veto.

Rep. Nick Kotik’s comments came in response to remarks earlier in the day from House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, suggesting an override push may be necessary if Wolf doesn’t start negotiating more realistically to reach a delayed state budget.

As long as Democrats keep sticking together until the bitter end, Republicans are going to have to abandon the “majority of the majority” rule and allow moderate Southeast and South Central suburban Republicans to negotiate a deal with all Democrats. That’s going to make the tea people mad at leadership, but there’s just no other way to get this done realistically.

Turzai also hinted at an outline for a potential deal that makes a lot of sense for Wolf and urban Democrats to take, on the substance. Moderate Republicans will vote for more revenues if Democrats sell out their donors in the UFCW on liquor privatization.

Wolf is going to end up having to give Republicans something they can claim as a win, and as I’ve been arguing for years, it doesn’t make any sense for urban and suburban Democrats to oppose this.

Populous areas of the state would enjoy more consumer choice and jobs if we allowed private liquor stores, and even more if we uncapped liquor licenses. This is easily worth trading for a severance tax and more school funding, especially if Wolf ensure that the plan is made revenue-neutral.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Suburban Republicans Ready to Vote for Severance Tax Whenever Tea Tantrum is Over

Looks like the Wolf PAC’s ads are working:

Several local Republican lawmakers also said a tax is on the table at the press conference.

“I’ve never been against a reasonable severance tax,” said Rep. Kate Harper. “I don’t think my caucus generally favors it, but I think if you want to do something in a bipartisan fashion and you get all the Democrats on board and a bunch of suburban Republicans then you get to ‘yes’ on that one.”

Suburban Republicans in the southeast in particular ran as liberals in 2014. They ran on voting for a severance tax and for restoring Tom Corbett’s cuts to education. But they really, really do not like it when you remind voters in their districts about these campaign promises in the middle of a budget stand-off.

Naturally they want to say that running ads against them reminding voters about what they said a year ago is unfair, but what could be unfair about it? They ran on these issues, they now have an opportunity to clear the budget logjam by voting for these issues, but they’re not doing it because they have their partisan Republican blinders on. That’s the definition of a fair political attack!

We’ve seen this show in Washington a million times now. Once the executive throws down the veto gauntlet, the tea people always throw a temper tantrum for way too long, and eventually leadership sells them out. Then the “majority of the majority” rule gets tossed out, and the budget gets passed with all Democrats plus suburban Republicans.

The only question now is how long the Republican leadership in the legislature is willing to let this drag on for.

Posted in Budget, Issues

As Wolf Gears Up For Environmental Regulatory Push, a Reminder to Focus on Methane

With the release of Tom Wolf’s regulatory agenda for the year last Friday, it’s a great time to refocus on the need to take a hard line on methane leakage.

Why is this so important?

Attitudes toward fracking in Pennsylvania politics come in three basic shapes.

Moratorium dead-enders

These are the people still pushing for a moratorium even though it’s been clear for years there’s no way this is happening. Tom Wolf didn’t support it during the campaign, and there’s even less support in the Republican legislature. It’s not happening.

Realist environmentalists

These are the people who know a moratorium will never pass, but still want to get the strongest environmental regulations possible. They may not support fracking, or, like Tom Wolf, they might support growing natural gas’s market share based on the belief that it can be a bridge fuel to a future where we rely primarily on renewable energy.

Climate deniers/Pollution truthers

These are the people who don’t care whether natural gas fracking is bad for the climate, because they don’t believe in man-made climate change. They also aren’t interested in fracking’s impact on water pollution or air pollution. For them, this issue is seen exclusively through the partisan political lens, and they’re in full-on confirmation-bias mode. Not reachable.

Most center-left Democrats and some center-right Republicans are in the Realist Environmentalist camp. What should that group be pushing for?

The key points to note are

1. natural gas really is killing off the coal industry faster, and that is the single most important thing we can do to get our greenhouse gas emissions under control.

2. Methane emissions from fracking threaten to overwhelm any cuts in CO2, and getting methane under control is key to getting greenhouse gas emissions under control.

Strong rules requiring corporations to trap their fugitive methane emissions have to be at the top of the agenda for the Realist Environmentalist crowd. Just like the severance tax was the hot topic of the budget season, methane needs to be the hot topic of the rule-writing blitz.

Wolf promised to take an activist stance on this during the campaign, saying more DEP enforcement resources were key to fixing this problem.

The gas industry flacks are already parroting talking points about “voluntary standards” as an alternative to new regulations though, which is going to sound like a freebie to a lot of people.

That’s exactly the kind of thing politicians can get away with when it doesn’t seem to them like the voters are paying attention. Which is why we’re going to keep tracking this issue and see it through the public hearing and rule-writing processes.

The regulatory agenda is pretty long, so this is a good candidate for crowdsourcing. If you see anything on there that’s worth tracking, leave it in the comments or email me at

Posted in Environment, Issues Tagged , ,

How Soon Will GOP Abandon “Majority of the Majority” Tactic in PA Budget Standoff?

Marc Levy has the most important read of the PA budget season, on the Republicans’ “majority of the majority” tactic that’s preventing a budget from getting passed.

Simply put, the “majority-of-the-majority” rule means legislation cannot get a floor vote unless most Republican lawmakers support it. And many Republicans, particularly the most conservative, want to see their leaders adhere to that rule this time around, as Wolf pursues what opponents call Pennsylvania’s biggest tax increase in history.

“I absolutely do,” said Rep. Justin Simmons, R-Lehigh. Otherwise, he said, “I would feel like they are selling us out.”

Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, said he thinks his fellow Senate Republicans support the rule and should their leaders not observe it, they “would alienate a lot of people in the caucus.”

That rule, plus much larger and more conservative Republican majorities than Rendell faced 12 years ago, could make it harder for Wolf to win passage of the package of tax increases he wants to finance a record boost in public school aid and wipe out a long-term budget deficit.

In the 2003 tax vote, Democrats cast 90 of the 134 “yes” votes in the House and Senate. A combined 89 Republicans voted “no,” while 44 voted “yes.”

This year, a majority of the majority rule suggests that 77 Republicans will need to sign on, counting two House districts that are likely to seat a Republican in special elections on Aug. 4.

The reason this story is important is because it has major implications for whether the public blames Tom Wolf or the right wing of the Republican Party for the budget stand-off.

There is an inaccurate version of this story that says only that Tom Wolf does not have the votes to pass his priorities in the legislature.

But if the Republican leadership brought Tom Wolf’s proposed severance tax up for an up-or-down vote of the full legislature tomorrow, it would almost certainly pass.

The trouble is that Republican leadership is refusing to let the severance tax get an up-or-down vote of the full legislature, since it does not enjoy majority support within the Republican caucus.

The path to victory in the full legislature involves getting all Democrats plus the suburban southeast and northeast Republicans who ran on their support for a severance tax and restoring school funding cuts.

What the “majority of the majority” tactic (called the Hastert Rule in Washington) does is change the median vote needed to win support for the severance tax from a southeast suburban Republican to a western PA or center state Republican from gas country.

The thing is, we know how this plays out. The tea people have played this game with Obama like a dozen times now and they’ve lost every time.

That’s because Wolf and Obama both enjoy veto power, and Tom Wolf has made clear he’s going to veto any budget that doesn’t deliver on his three big priorities: severance tax, restoring education cuts, and property tax relief.

To override that veto, Republicans need a two-thirds vote of the legislature. As long as Democrats all hang tight, that’s not going to happen.

So, as John Boehner has done many times now, the Republican leadership is going to have to abandon “majority of the majority” and let the budget pass with all Democrats + the more reasonable Republicans.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Voluntary Environmental Standards Don’t Work

Officially, natural gas drillers are already complying with the EPA’s plan banning frack water from being sent to municipal water treatment plants, which aren’t equipped to clean those kinds of toins. But they still don’t want those regulations to become official, and would rather keep going with the handshake agreement they struck with Tom Corbett, reports Jon Hurdle:

The U.S. EPA’s plan to prevent municipal water treatment plants from accepting fracking waste is being hailed by supporters as a necessary safeguard against the contamination of public water supplies, and attacked by the petroleum industry as a short-sighted measure that ignores its long-term needs and violates the Clean Water Act […]

“Under current rules, oil and gas companies are permitted to send millions of gallons of toxic waste water to sewage treatment plants,” [17th District Congressman Matt] Cartwright said.

He said the practice stopped in Pennsylvania – where 15 facilities previously accepted fracking waste — after an agreement between the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett and the gas industry, and the EPA seeks to apply the same principle with the new rule […]

Although the industry currently doesn’t use public water-treatment plants, it would like the option of doing so in future, [IPAA executive vice president Lee] Fuller said.

Here is probably the most important paragraph of Hurdle’s article.:

Although the natural gas industry does not currently send fracking waste to municipal plants, it has done so in the past, and some plants continue to receive such requests from gas companies, so the rule is designed to prevent any resumption of that practice, the EPA said when publishing the rule in March.

Voluntary standards don’t work. There’s a handshake agreement, but gas companies keep approaching municipal plants about it anyway. And given the relative pittance we spend on enforcing the laws, who knows whether anybody’s honoring the hand shake?

You see the industry making the same arguments around methane emissions too. Tom Wolf committed to regulating methane during the 2014 campaign, and now the oil and gas companies’ position is that we can totally trust them to control methane on their own with voluntary standards, without passing any new regulations.

There’s no evidence this works, but there is good evidence that rules work. When the EPA’s new air quality rules went into effect regulating some types of methane emissions, emissions went down. But unregulated sources account for most of the methane emissions, and emissions from these sources have been increasing.

The bottom line is, in all these cases we need actual rules to hold extractive industries accountable, not handshakes with two fingers crossed behind the back.

Posted in Energy, Environment, Issues

Scarnati Knows a Severance Tax Would Pass If Brought Up for a Vote

Scarnati said he opposes a severance tax. But he declined to rule it out. There’s “some level of support” in all four caucuses of both parties in House and Senate for a severance tax, he said. But there’s “not majority votes in the House and Senate Republican caucuses at this point,” Scarnati said. With the industry reeling from low gas prices, “I liken a shale tax to Detroit, during the Clutch Plague, putting a tax on automobiles,” Scarnati said.

A bunch of Southeast Republicans ran for reelection as liberals in 2014, saying they supported a severance tax and restoring the Republican cuts to education. If they had to vote on the severance tax plan, they’d vote for it, and so would most Democrats. Very probably it would pass.

The problem is that Republicans don’t want to bring it up for an up-or-down vote. They are going by the “Hastert Rule” used in Washington – the majority of the majority principle. Senate Republicans won’t bring up anything that doesn’t have a majority of their caucus, so we’re stuck.

How this all ends is that Tom Wolf is going to veto anything that doesn’t address his top three priorities, and Republicans don’t have the votes for a veto override. They’re ultimately going to have to give Wolf something close to what he wants.

The first step to stop holding up the public’s business here is to dispense with the Hastert Rule, put the severance tax up for a vote, and let the Southeast Republicans take the vote that everybody knows they’re eventually going to take here.

A stop-gap is a total non-starter. You see the way this plays out in Washington all the time. We extend that Corbett budget once, and we’ll be stuck extending it every six months for Wolf’s entire term.

(Via Pittsburgh Tribune Review)

Posted in Miscellany

Republican End-Run Around DEP Drilling Regs Probably Doomed

Despite Tom Wolf’s veto the first time around, legislative Republicans are vowing to try once again to use the Fiscal Code to carve conventional oil and gas drillers out of the official process for creating new Marcellus Shale drilling regulations, reports Dave Hess:

Senate and House Republicans sent a Fiscal Code bill– Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh)– to the Governor that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.

Gov. Wolf this week vetoed the entire Republican budget, including Senate Bill 655, but House Republicans said they would continue to fight for the provision killing DEP’s regulations in “round two.”

The language said the process used by DEP to propose the regulations was “invalid” with respect to conventional wells, but the language could be interpreted to also apply to unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells since they both used the same process stopping that process as well.

To override Wolf’s veto, they’d need to get two-thirds of the state House. Republicans control 120 of the 203 seats, so they’d need 16 Democrats to cross party lines to get the 136 they need for the veto override.

In the state Senate, where Republicans have 30 of the 50 seats, they’d need 4 Democrats to sell out to get to two-thirds.

If this were a standalone bill, it’s conceivable the gas industry could find the votes, but this gambit is part of a bigger package of Republican Fiscal Code changes that’s not going to get two-thirds, so it’s probably going down.

Even though Tom Wolf probably has our back here, make sure to thank him for vetoing it, and also fill out this form to tell your Democratic Rep to hold strong and support the team on this.

Posted in Budget, Energy, Environment, Issues

Wolf Vetoes Republicans’ End-Run Around DEP Drilling Regulations

Along with the Republican proposals for alcohol reform and pensions, Tom Wolf also vetoed the Republicans’ plan to use the Fiscal Code to carve conventional oil and gas drilling out of DEP’s ongoing Marcellus Shale rule-writing.

If Republicans want different regulations for conventional drillers, good for them, but they need to take that argument to the court of public opinion.

DEP has had 12 public meetings on this, with extensive public comment periods over the past few years as they’ve been developing the new gas regulations. The public has had lots of time to chew this over, and now it’s time to act. Republicans had every opportunity to try to persuade the public that their view is right, but nobody’s buying it so they’re trying to cheat.

Posted in Budget, Energy, Environment, Issues

Why Can’t All Wawa’s Sell Beer?

One Wawa in Pennsylvania will soon sell beer, in Chadd’s Ford.

Acme, Whole Foods and Wegmans already have approval to sell beer in the area.

A decision is expected on July 21.

Wawa doesn’t sell beer in Pennsylvania, but does in Virginia and Florida.

Wawa doesn’t abstain from selling beer here because the Pennsylvania market can’t support it. Pennsylvanians would love to buy beer at Wawa. It’s just the dumb cap on liquor licenses that’s holding them back from full greatness.

It’s very hard to imagine a scenario where whatever economic downside would supposedly come from liquor license prices dipping due isn’t outweighed by the economic benefits of all Wawas selling beer.

So I’m glad to see that the Democrats are finally waking up to idea that adding more ‘R’ licenses helps their constituents, and that high prices for licenses are bad for the restaurant economy in the kinds of places they represent–mostly cities:

Some of Wolf’s Democrat allies in the legislature who green-lighted this latest discussion have also said it could be combined with provisions to add new ‘R’ licenses – which are fully allocated in many counties – statewide.

That process would start, they said, with a county-by-county study of the licenses’ fair market value. When those studies are done, added licenses could be made available by auction and awarded to any buyer who is willing to at least meet the fair market value.

That provision, the Democrat sources said, is intended to create room for more grocers to get licenses without diminishing their value for existing licensees or blocking new restaurants from entering the market.

As a sidebar, I’m for the state store privatization bill and think it would be a no-brainer for Tom Wolf to trade his signature on that bill for a severance tax to fund education.

It would also be a no-brainer for urban and suburban Democrats, whose voters would benefit on balance from the types of new wine and spirits stores that would open, to support that horse trade when the time comes, to get the budget over the line before the end of the year.

Posted in Economy, Issues

Republicans Not Backing Off on Undoing Environmental Policy Through the Fiscal Code

Despite Tom Wolf’s veto, House and Senate Republicans aren’t backing off trying to undo the Department of Environmental Protection’s drilling regulations by amending the fiscal code – an abuse of the process that requires no committee hearings or public outreach, unlike the official rule-writing process.

Even with the threat of the governor’s veto, House Republicans are keeping language in the fiscal code that handcuffs new regulations on oil and gas drilling.

The Senate and House moved the fiscal code with an amendment to block the state Department of Environmental Protection’s new rules on oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Newly-confirmed DEP Secretary Tom Quigley says it’s his opinion that the Republicans’ carve-out for conventional drillers, if it survives Wolf’s veto pen, would not derail the ongoing rule-writing process for unconventional drilling.

Tom Wolf really needs to hold the line on this anyway. Conventional drilling is way overdue for regulatory upgrades in PA, and the idea that the non-Marcellus resource extraction process is fine is nuts. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our extractive industry regulations, including conventional drilling, methane emissions, coal ash waste disposal, and all the rest.

If Republicans wanted to write the environmental regulations, they shouldn’t have let Tom Corbett blow their party’s credibility with the voters on the environment––an overlooked reason why he lost the election so badly.

If you’ve got Republican state representatives, tell them to respect the real rule-writing process, and get their hands off the Fiscal Code.

(via PennLive)

Posted in Budget, Energy, Environment, Issues