It is not news that Gov. Tom Corbett is a friend of oil and gas companies, but his support of the industry over the hardworking men and women of Pennsylvania is becoming more devastating every day. Funding for our children's education, health care for our elderly, jobs for dedicated workers and for our public transportation and roads is being cut because of the favors the governor continues to dole out to big, rich oil and gas companies like Shell, Exxon and EQT.
Sure, these companies bankrolled the governor's campaign. That earned their executives the majority of spots on his Marcellus Shale "advisory" commission and cost Pennsylvanians up to $562 million that they otherwise might have received from a reasonable severance tax on the industry. That's a half-billion dollars that could have been preserved for education, health care, jobs and transportation if the governor had agreed to tax his friends in the Marcellus Shale industry at a level similar to every other oil- and gas-producing state.
Now we've learned that Gov. Corbett plans to hand out another $1.65 billion in tax relief to his oil and gas friends over the next 25 years. Shell, the world's second largest corporation, which rung up more than $30 billion in profits just last year, would get a giant tax break for simply operating in our state. This is money that Shell doesn't need and that Pennsylvanians can't afford to lose.
Meanwhile, hardworking taxpayers just trying to do right by our families are getting hurt.
Gov. Corbett cut state funding for public schools by nearly $1 billion this year. In most districts, the Corbett cuts have caused some combination of teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, elimination of after-school programs and extracurricular activities or elimination of music, art and language classes.
My son Aiden is in the first grade at Whittier Elementary School in Mount Washington. I have been very impressed with the quality of the teachers, administrative staff and curriculum at his school, but I know that other elementary schools are hurting, and I'm really worried about what will happen when he gets to middle and high school.
The Pittsburgh public school district is in the process of closing four more elementary schools and two high schools, and it has sent provisional layoff notices to 285 teachers. Middle and high school students are being shuffled around and their class sizes are growing, lowering the quality of their education and disrupting the building of a strong and stable community among their teachers and peers.
These cuts affect our children's ability to learn critical skills and creative problem-solving, which they will need to get good jobs when they graduate. It hurts our children, it hurts our economy and it hurts our country when we don't have a fully educated and competitive workforce.
If Shell and other rich corporations want to be part of our communities, to use our roads and bridges and drill on our land, they need to invest in our communities and infrastructure the way the rest of us do. And Gov. Corbett needs to hold these corporations accountable to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. It is inexcusable that he is forcing our children to shoulder the burden of budget cuts while he proposes to hand tens of millions of dollars to Shell oil. These are not Pennsylvania values.
Including the giveaways to big oil and gas companies, Pennsylvanians are losing $1 billion or so each year because the governor won't ask his buddies in the top 1 percent to pay their share of taxes.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, 70 percent of Pennsylvania companies do not pay any corporate income taxes, while another 10 percent pay $1,000 or less per year. A major reason is that Pennsylvania is one of the few states that allows wealthy corporations like Comcast, Hershey and Sheetz to dodge state income taxes by claiming to be incorporated in another state, particularly Delaware. Just closing the so-called Delaware loophole would generate $500 million per year -- half of Mr. Corbett's education cuts -- but so far the governor has refused.
Gov. Corbett is also showering corporate interests with cash at our children's expense by continuing the "Amazon loophole." Under this special interest deal, highly profitable corporations like Amazon are given kickbacks from the state treasury to reward them if they submit sales taxes on time. Closing this loophole could generate another $74 million per year to avoid cuts in education and other key services.
Pennsylvania needs a leader who shares the values of hardworking families, not those of big oil and gas. We need a governor who holds corporations accountable to Pennsylvania taxpayers. And if we have a governor who won't do this, we need state legislators willing to stand up for us and our children.
Debbie Srogi is active in the One Pittsburgh protest movement and lives in Mount Washington. First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 AM