* Wagner’s Sept. 14 comments were recorded by a state Democratic Party tracker who tails him on the campaign trail. Here’s part of what the audio picked up: “I went to school with Stan Saylor,” Wagner said. “And I told Stan at a meeting three weeks ago, he was sitting like fifteen feet away from me, I said ‘Stan you cannot let this severance tax get through … because if that happens the governor is going to get reelected. Stan, you take that to the bank.’”
Allentown Morning Call: Pennsylvania’s gas drilling severance tax budget idea enters governor’s race
By Steve Esack
Politics has always been lurking in the shadows of Pennsylvania’s long, drawn-out budget fight and ever-present deficit. So it was just a matter of time before budgetary politics came into the light being cast by the looming 2018 election for governor.
It happened this month, when Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, told a gathering of York County residents that he urged Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, to fight a gas drilling tax proposal because it could help Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf win a second term. Saylor is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is a key cog in the budget talks.
Wagner’s Sept. 14 comments were recorded by a state Democratic Party tracker who tails him on the campaign trail. Here’s part of what the audio picked up: “I went to school with Stan Saylor,” Wagner said. “And I told Stan at a meeting three weeks ago, he was sitting like fifteen feet away from me, I said ‘Stan you cannot let this severance tax get through … because if that happens the governor is going to get reelected. Stan, you take that to the bank.’”
A severance tax was one of the 2013 campaign promises Wolf made on his way to defeating an unpopular incumbent, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Every year since being in office, Wolf has proposed a severance tax on natural gas drillers who already pay an impact fee on wells. Every year, the Republican-controlled Legislature has rebuffed him. But this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that included higher sales taxes on utility bills and a severance tax that also carried regulatory changes for business. Wagner voted against the bills and the GOP-controlled House rejected them, too. Budget talks are ongoing.
Wagner’s campaign manager Jason High dismissed the recording as nothing more than “campaign talk.” Wagner has opposed a severance tax in Senate floor policy speeches that have nothing to do with politics. “He’s been pretty vocal about that for a long time,” High said of Wagner’s objection to the tax.
Through a spokesman Saylor declined comment on the specifics of his conversation with Wagner.
“The chairman doesn’t allow political conversations to affect his views and votes on policy items,” said Saylor spokesman John O’Brien. “Stan has a long record of opposing a severance tax. It’s nothing new.”
Democratic Party spokeswoman Beth Melena doesn’t see Wagner’s shale comments as campaign politics as usual. She sees a conspiracy.
“Republicans in the Legislature conspiring with their gubernatorial candidate to block a shale tax for electoral gain is Harrisburg at its very worst,” Melena said.
Wagner has his supporters and detractors in the Legislature. As the owner of a York County trash and recycling company, Wagner has donated personal money to Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate and also raised money for them as the head of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. At the same time, he has accused Republican and Democratic lawmakers of being corrupt politicians who are hurting the state.
Wagner’s Republican opponent in the May 2018 primary is Paul Mango, a western Pennsylvania businessman. Wolf is unopposed on the Democratic side.
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