Impact “Fee” or Impact “Tax”? It Matters in this (Court) Case

Is the money collected from drillers in Pennsylvania for wells a fee, or a tax? Under the Act 13 law passed in 2012, it’s called an impact fee. We’ve long made the case that it’s part fee, part tax (see our story from 2012: PA’s New Tax on Drilling (er Sorry, Impact Fee)). Our definition, which we think makes eminent sense, is that a fee is money collected to reimburse the government for a service used. You drill a well in a community, you run big trucks over rural roads–those roads get damaged and it takes money to repair them. Or if there’s an accident because of the increase in traffic and fire/police are called out more frequently–there’s a cost associated. Local towns meeting to review and debate requests related to new wells? Takes precious time, and money. The impact fee, as originally intended, would compensate local municipalities for out-of-pocket expenses they incur when drilling comes to town. But then greedy politicians who like money to flow through their stick fingers got involved and in order to “sell” the impact fee in Harrisburg, compromises were made. In the end, 60% of the money collected from the impact “fee” stays local–to reimburse towns and counties for out-of-pocket expenses. The other 40% goes into the Harrisburg black hole and disappears into the fingers of local and state politicians who don’t incur any expense from drilling. So we call that 40% portion a tax–an obscene one at that. Why does it matter whether it’s considered a tax or a fee? Because of a Commonwealth Court case in which a driller maintains it’s a tax and the company doesn’t owe it if it’s considered a tax…

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