Our opinion: A tough spot

As the clock ticks toward the end of the month and Pennsylvania’s budget deadline, things aren’t looking much better than they did six months ago.

In fact, they are looking worse.

Over the last six months, state tax revenues have fallen far below estimates, and the General Assembly is looking for ways to balance the ledger for 2014-15 without raising personal (voter) income taxes or other levies. There is an election coming up in November, you know.

The first Tuesday in November is particularly worrisome for Gov. Tom Corbett, who is currently trailing his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by as much as 20 points in the polls. Remember, it was Corbett, who borrowed from George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign promise that voters could read his lips when he said, “No new taxes.”

Ultimately, President Bush was forced to raise taxes.

Ultimately, Gov. Corbett may be forced to raise taxes as well. In fact, he already has, adding 8 to 10 cents per gallon to the gasoline tax this year and as much as 28 cents per gallon over the next several years. It was needed, the public was told, to properly maintain the state’s crumbling bridges and roads. We don’t doubt the need, having suffered many a mile of deteriorating state roads ourselves.

Still, this is a jam, and the governor and his crew in the House and Senate are looking for ways out as they once again peer longingly at the one-time cash influx available from selling the state’s liquor business.

Cutting education spending is a possibility, although Corbett got a black eye from state education cuts early in his term, and the bruise hasn’t completely healed.

In the meantime, talk is resurfacing in the Capitol about a shale gas extraction, or severance, tax, even among some Republicans, and Corbett’s opponent is an advocate as well.

Corbett’s friends in the industry are furious that Corbett is even thinking about such an abomination.

“Never in our wildest dreams would we believe itwe don’t want to believe it. But Corbett spokeswoman Lynn Lawson has ‘declined to say if Corbett still rules out an extraction tax’ that would be used to meet a budget short-fall, particularly in education,” said the on-line Marcellus Drilling News.

“The tough decisionthe right decisionis to scale back. Layoff teachers if you have to. If you don’t have the money to pay the exorbitant salaries of lefty teachersso what? Don’t pay them! To take money away from producers (the drilling industry) to give it to non-producers (education) is abhorrent,” the missive continued.

Corbett received $1.3 million from oil and natural gas interests in his first campaign, having told them he wouldn’t even think about an extraction tax.

There’s no question Corbett is in a tough spot, but it’s a position he shares with comrades in the General Assembly.

Is Corbett thinking about an extraction tax? Who knows?

But, we’re sure he is doing a lot of thinking these days.