PA Gov Wolf’s 6.5% Severance Tax Proposal a Hot, Stinking Mess

As politicians and analysts begin to dig into one of the centerpieces of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017 budget–a 6.5% severance tax on Marcellus/Utica drilling–new details begin to emerge. Like this: Most lease contracts contain a provision that says any taxes paid, including severance taxes, are a post-production expense and deducted from landowner royalties. So if Wolf’s severance tax were to pass, the people paying it will be landowners. That’s $200 million or so coming out of farmers’ pockets. Wolf & co. knew that situation would not earn them any votes, so they include a provision in the budget disallowing severance taxes to be deducted from royalties. Overturning existing contracts is illegal and sure to be challenged in court, but if somehow that provision gets upheld and the tax passes, it’s easy to predict Marcellus drilling will mostly cease. Wolf’s proposed 6.5% severance tax would put the state at, or near the top of, all states in severance tax rates. Some of the biggest drillers in the state have recently leased acreage in other plays and have no problem with shutting down new drilling in the Marcellus, moving on to other plays where the economics make more sense. Let’s assume the tax passes and drillers sue to remove the clause about severance tax deductions not being allowed, and win. Landowners then fund the severance tax out of their pockets (the drillers are the “bad guys” and Wolf says “don’t look at me”). Now let’s assume the tax passes and drillers sue to remove the clause about severance tax deductions and lose. Drillers simply walk away from PA. Either way, the Wolf severance tax proposal is a hot, stinking mess…

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