The Republican Party completely controls Pennsylvania's government, but public pressure has split it into three camps on the drilling tax issue, making its outcome fluid and uncertain. The Republican splits mean that Democratic votes could be needed to pass any drilling fee or tax bill.
Yet, no vote will occur either in the Senate or the House of Representatives on any drilling fee or tax plan, unless the Republican leaders allow a bill to come to the floor for a vote. But Republican leaders are under pressure from their own members to resolve this issue and know that the Democratic Party would be delighted if the Republicans take no action or pass a bill that it can attack as a sweetheart deal for the drilling industry. Democrats believe the public is now intensely focused on this issue, especially in swing districts around the state, and want to run drilling tax campaigns in 2012.
The three-way split of the Republican Party begins with The Norquist Republicans who have signed Grover's no tax increase pledge or support it. This group rallies behind Governor Corbett's optional, county fee proposal that so far has the support of Grover Norquist.
But the Governor's plan has been praised by few and criticized by many, meaning that the plan will not be passed without changes and probably very substantial ones. Any changes then may lose Grover's and so presumably the Governor's support, though many Republicans who did not sign Grover's pledge would like to tell Norquist to take a hike out of Pennsylvania's business.
The second Republican grouping includes Senator Scarnati and Representative Quinn who both have offered "statewide fee" proposals and have been judged to be "tax" increases by the grand arbiter Norquist. Both of these fee plans would impose a mandatory statewide fee, raise much more revenue than the Governor's proposal, and authorize many more statewide uses of the funds raised.
Representatives Murt and DiGirolamo lead the third Republican grouping and propose a real gas drilling tax, which would raise $300 million now, $500 million soon, and provides for using revenues for local impacts, statewide environmental programs, and other uses like funding drug and alcohol programs.
The Republican statewide fee grouping led by Senator Scarnati and Representative Quinn probably enjoys the most but not universal Republican support. More than 30 members in the House and Senate have signed the Norquist Pledge and most of them many not vote for anything.
As a consequence of the significant Republican splits on this issue, no gas drilling fee or tax bill is likely to pass without Democratic support. But Democrats may well not support any bill that the Governor would sign.
Where does that leave the gas drilling tax issue? The issue is stuck between a mobilized public opinion and Governor Corbett's pledge not to raise taxes and fees.
If the Governor will not budge, Republicans can avoid a vote on the issue or unify around a bill that the Governor will sign and pass it without any Democratic support. Either option makes many Democrats smile by yielding an election issue, since a bill the Governor would sign may raise little revenue and not benefit many parts of Pennsylvania.
If those options are judged to be too toxic, about 50% of Republicans can join with Democrats and pass a bill designed to overcome a veto and remove the issue from politics.
With the Eagles imploding, this will be my fall enterainment. I am running out to buy more popcorn.