The key numbers in the gas drilling tax or fee debate are not the tax rate or fee per well or the total revenue raised. Instead the key numbers are 102-26-1 or 136-34.
While those numbers look like winning lottery tickets, they are the number of votes a bill needs to become law either with the signature of the Governor or by overriding a veto.
The normal route to pass a bill is 102 votes in the House of Representatives; 26 in the Senate; and the signature or lack of a veto by the Governor. In the event of a veto, the Legislature can override it by a vote of 136 and 34 in the House and Senate, a high mountain for sure but a mountain that exists and has been climbed in the past.
For the Governor's impact fee proposal, the first question becomes can it pass with only Republican votes? It will have to, because Democrats in the House and Senate have major reasons to vote against it almost unanimously.
Most Democrats represent districts that would get almost nothing from the Governor's proposal and know that any vote for a fee or tax can and will be used against them in a future campaign by a Republican opponent. There is no upside and lots of downside for Democrats in the Governor's proposal.
The Governor will need to gain the support of at least 10 of 14 Republican senators who represent districts that will get little or nothing from his proposal and at least 10 Republicans in the House that get little or nothing. For this group of Republicans, support of the Governor's fee proposal creates a potent political issue for Democratic opponents in 2012 and 2014 election cycles. The issue could even cost Republicans 5 seats and majority control of the Senate. For that reason alone, the Governor's proposal is not likely to pass the Senate.
The path in the House for the Governor is made trickier, because as many as 25 Republican House members have taken a Tea Party plegde to oppose all fees and taxes. These members know that they may face a primary challenge if they break it.
The easiest way to get to 102 and 26 would be a bill that benefits all districts and Pennsylvanians. In fact there are probably 140 votes in the House and 40 in the Senate for such legislative proposals. But the Governor has suggested he would veto any bill that delivered funds in a manner that breaks a link between revenues raised and impacts.
The two political keys, therefore, to this issue become, will the Governor show flexibility on the use of funds so that all Pennsylvanians benefit and a bill passes that he supports? If not, will the 70 per cent support for a drilling tax in the public produce enough votes to override a possible veto?