Politics & Policy

Onorato Backtracks From ‘Hire Pennsylvanians’ Marcellus Permit Threats

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Dan Onorato was bullish on his plans to push a severance tax plan on extraction of Marcellus Shale.

Marcellus Shale remains an emerging industry in Pennsylvania, and it’s an issue that has sharply divided gubernatorial candidates Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett, who has led consistently in the polls.

Fiesty and at times combative on the severance tax issue, Onorato was most revealing when Battle ‘10 asked him about his oft-repeated campaign pledge to ensure that companies hire Pennsylvanians for new jobs rather than “Texans or Oklahomans.”

Gov. Ed Rendell and DEP Secretary John Hanger have both suggested such a requirement by the governor would be unconstitutional, in violation of the commerce clause.

Onorato, however, has suggested repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would use his leverage as governor to require in-state hiring as a condition of a company obtaining a drilling permit from the governor.

Onorato backed off this claim during the call, however, explaining, “We won’t do it by law,” acknowledging that an outright requirement to hire Pennsylvanians would be murky at best.

“We want to train Pennsylvanians,” Onorato explained, through colleges and programs, to ensure that the “industry will be more than willing” to hire from within the commonwealth.

Onorato implied that his “hire Pennsylvanian” talking point should not be taken as a legal requirement for a drilling permit, but as a sort of philosophical or policy-minded approach to training new workers.

“I really don’t think we’re ever going to fight over this,” declared Onorato, saying “if we can provide them with skilled workers, they’ll take our people.” 

Marcellus extraction is expected to bring tens of thousands of jobs to Pennsylvania, a state where more than half a million have lost their jobs since the start of the recession.

Onorato re-iterated his campaign proposal to impose a tax on the corporations extracting the natural gas, the revenue from which Onorato would see fund three state operations: the Department of Environmental Protection, a local “impact fund,” and green environmental conservation programs.

“Tom Corbett wants taxpayers to pay the bill,” leveled Onorato, saying that Corbett’s no tax pledge on Marcellus will result in a de facto tax burden on all residents if an environmental accident were to occur.

Marcellus, Onorato told reporters, is a “once in a lifetime opportunity, and we’ve got one chance to get it right.” Onorato explained his DEP funding plan by saying there would be “a lot of risk to roads, drinking water, [and the] environment” as a result of extraction.

“This [severance tax] does not have to be a partisan issue. Twelve [state] House Republicans voted for the version that passed the Chamber,” pointed out Onorato. 

He went on to clarify, however, that he disagreed with the legislation just passed, saying “I don’t support the House bill because of the rate [of taxation], and because of how they propose to spend it.”

“I do not believe we should be raising the severance tax” in order that it go “toward the general fund,” explained Onorato.

Corbett, he charged, was “purely in the pocket of oil and gas.” Corbett has received at least $350,000 in contributions from the industry, though Onorato himself has received at least half as much support from that same industry.

If elected, Onorato promised he would propose his own legislation for a tax on “Day One as I’m sworn in.”

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