Wolf’s natural gas-backed infrastructure plan enjoys majority support, new Franklin & Marshall poll finds

By: - August 8, 2019 4:00 am

Governor Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference about Restore Pennsylvania and broadband internet access across the Commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s $4.5 billion infrastructure plan may be controversial inside the Capitol building in Harrisburg, but a new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows Pennsylvania voters are far less conflicted.

Nearly 70 percent of registered voters polled said they strongly or somewhat favor Wolf’s Restore PA proposal, which, as the question states, “would be funded by a severance tax on natural gas drillers.”

Another 8 and 12 percent of people surveyed said they somewhat or strongly oppose the measure, while 12 percent of voters were undecided.

Over the past several months, Wolf has embarked on a statewide tour to tout what a multi-billion-dollar injection of capital could do for blight remediation, conservation efforts, flood infrastructure, high-speed internet expansion, and more.

Restore Pennsylvania, explained: Everything you need to know about Gov. Tom Wolf’s infrastructure plan

The $4.5 billion would be borrowed against 20 years of revenue from a tax on how much natural gas is produced in the state. Currently, Pennsylvania levies an annual per-well fee on sites drilled and operated.

Critics of the plan, most notably House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, argue that taking out more debt is irresponsible and that natural gas drillers are job creators who should not be penalized with additional taxes.

The F&M poll question mentions the $4.5 billion investment in infrastructure and the severance tax funding source, but does not explicitly reference the additional debt the plan would require or the existing impact fee.

Just how much debt Pennsylvania would have to pay back is still unknown. In June, when the Wolf administration released legislative language for the proposal, Turzai’s office estimated the total price tag at $6 billion.

Wolf’s team declined to “speculate” on what a final interest rate may be during a media briefing on the proposal, but the administration previously floated a 5 percent estimate. That would bring the total cost to roughly $4.7 billion.

The General Assembly will return from its summer recess in September. Bills authorizing Restore PA were introduced in June with majority support in the Senate and near-majority support in the House.

But neither piece of legislation can advance without the cooperation of Republican leadership.

Senate leadership did bring a severance tax proposal up for a vote in 2017, albeit with weakened environmental regulations. It passed 26-24, but was not considered in the House.

Indeed, the lower chamber seems much less likely to bend. The House Environmental Resource & Energy Committee is chaired by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who called a severance tax a “disastrous economic policy that will never see the light of day on my watch.”

House Democrats have floated filing a discharge resolution to get the bill out of Metcalfe’s committee and to the full chamber for a vote. But as Metcalfe previously told the Capital-Star, he’s dealt with similar threats by bringing up bills he doesn’t support for a vote and gutting them through the amendment process.

After easily winning reelection in November 2018, Wolf’s favorability ratings dipped slightly between F&M’s March poll and the survey released Thursday. Of voters polled, 47 percent said Wolf is doing an excellent or good job — down from 51 percent in March.

Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research polled 627 registered Pennsylvania voters between July 29 and Aug. 4, 2019. The poll has a sample error of +/- 6 percent.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.