2015-03-07 / Viewpoints

Meeting with the governor

BY REP. MARTIN CAUSER

(Martin Causer of McKean County is a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives whose district includes most of the Endeavor News readership area.)

Last week, I met with Gov. Tom Wolf to talk about several key issues for rural Pennsylvania.

We talked about the fiscal challenges facing rural communities and, in particular, school districts.

The state’s Basic Education Funding Commission will make recommendations later this year about how to revise the state’s funding formula, but I am deeply concerned that could mean a loss in state funds for all of our rural schools that are already struggling.

I specifically talked to the governor about the plight of the Austin Area

School District, which is the largest district geographically but the smallest in student population. Austin has a very limited tax base since 90 percent of the land in the district is owned by the state.

In addition, I outlined for the governor my two state land tax fairness proposals that would go a long way toward helping school districts and communities across the region.

House Bill 344 would increase the state’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) on state-owned forest and game lands from $3.60 per acre to $6.00 per acre. The PILT is divided equally among the municipalities, school districts and counties in which the land is located.

House Bill 343 calls for 20 percent of total revenue collected from the sale of timber, oil and natural gas on most state-owned lands to be deposited into a restricted fund for disbursement to local governments across the Commonwealth, proportionally based on the number of acres of state land in each municipality, school district and county.

We also discussed the region’s reliance on conventional oil and gas drilling, which is at risk because the industry is being lumped into the same regulatory requirements as the large-scale unconventional drilling in shale formations.

I stressed to the governor that there are vast differences in these drilling operations and a failure to implement separate regulations will drive our conventional operators out of business, taking thousands of good-paying jobs with them.

In addition, I briefed the governor on efforts to establish a rural community college to better serve the needs of students of all ages and employers in the area. Although development of the college was authorized in legislation last year, and $1.2 million was dedicated to help with start-up costs, the Education Department has refused to release the funding.

The governor seemed perplexed about why the money hadn’t been released and indicated he would look into it. With his background in business and manufacturing, he should understand why making community college services available here is so important.

It is important for the governor to understand the unique challenges facing people in rural Pennsylvania and to recognize how some of his proposed policies may impact our region. I appreciated the opportunity to bring these issues to his attention.

Finally, I extended the governor an invitation to visit the region. The more our state’s leaders understand rural Pennsylvania, the better off we will be.

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