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Report: Shale industry throwing money around Harrisburg

Published by Mike Pound on .

Julia Rendleman/Post-GazetteJulia Rendleman/Post-Gazette

Let's take a moment to meet the new leadership of our state's legislature. And to check out a few numbers that could portend a rough time for the guy who will be the next governor.

The first number? Try $49 million, the amount of money spent by the energy industry on lobbying and political contributions in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2014. That figure comes from a new site, Marcellusmoney.org, and a just-completed study by the site's operator, Common Cause PA, the non-partisan group that promotes integrity in government.

The new majority leadership in the state House and Senate reflects two shifts – an ideological one towards the right, led by baseball bat-wielding garbage guy Sen. Scott Wagner, and a geographic one, from suburban Philly to the central and western portions of the state – in other words, shale country.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the gentlemen who find themselves among the legislature's leadership also have been the recipients of some hefty checks from drillers. New Senate majority leader Jake Corman? About $90,000, good for 14th on the Common Cause PA list. New Speaker of the House Mike Turzai? About $272,000, the fourth-highest total on the list. New House majority leader Dave Reed? About $179,000, or sixth on the list. And Sen. Joe Scarnati, who held his seat as president pro tem? He took in about $500,000, good for third on the list.

Who had the best seat on the gravy train? That would be outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett, who received just under $2.1 million from the industry in those seven years.

It's pretty clear that the GOP has been the primary target of the industry's efforts to win friends and influence people, but Democrats are bringing in some significant cash as well. Neither Jack Wagner nor Dan Onorato have run for a state level office in several years, but both make the list for six-figure totals over the life of the study, good for fifth on the list for Mr. Onorato and 10th for Mr. Wagner.

The $139,000 taken in by State Sen. Tim Solobay didn't help him much on election day – despite having in the ninth-highest total, Mr. Solobay lost his re-election bid. Sen. Jay Costa just won re-election as the Senate minority leader he's received almost $80,000, good for 16th on the list.

And not even the office of our governor-elect is free of energy industry money. Katie McGinty, who sought the Democratic nomination for governor in the spring and will serve as Tom Wolf's chief of staff, received a total of nearly $73,000 – that's 17th on the list. And at No. 20 is Mr. Wolf himself; the new governor-to-be accepted more than $53,000 in donations from the industry he promised to tax.

What does this mean? It means we probably shouldn't be surprised that Pennsylvania is the only shale-energy state that doesn't levy an extraction tax of any kind.

And even if Mr. Corman hadn't told the AP that he wouldn't want to impose a severance tax if it endangered the state's hopes for a Shell cracker plant in Beaver County, it means we should be even less surprised when Mr. Wolf struggles to enact the single most concrete promise from his successful campaign – to fund education in the commonwealth with – hello – a severance tax.

It's probably too soon to write off Mr. Wolf's chances with the new General Assembly – but it might not be a bad idea for the incoming governor to have a Plan B in mind.

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You say you want a revolution?

Published by Mike Pound on .

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (Associated Press photo)State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (Associated Press photo)

Republicans won the five available state Senate seats on Tuesday, as part of a sweep that seemed to include nearly every contested race – with the notable exception of the contest between The Battling Toms – across the country.

So everything should be happy in Republiland, right?

Wrong.

First up on the agenda of the reinforced majority party appears to be a fight over which branch of the party holds leadership positions. The Associated Press tells us that Sen. Jake Corman of Centre County is expected to challenge Sen. Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County for the position of Senate majority leader, a seat that Mr. Pileggi has held for eight years.

What's behind the challenge, which was confirmed by two other state senators this week? It's a notion by the party's conservative wing that the Senate, as led by Mr. Pileggi, hasn't done enough in a couple of areas: overhauling public pension benefits and ending the state-run monopoly on sales of wine and liquor. The more conservative folks also say they're unhappy about the influence that the more moderate Republicans from the Philly region assert on the Senate.

This has been brewing for a while. On Sept. 29, Mr. Pileggi copied each member of the Senate a memo sent to him by Sen. Scott Wagner of York County; in that letter, Mr. Wagner, a conservative businessman who handily won a full term this week, said he had concluded that "it is not in the best interest of Pennsylvanians for (Mr. Pileggi) to continue as Senate majority leader." Mr. Wagner accused Mr. Pileggi of not allowing Mr. Corbett any legislative victories and complained that the majority leader was too beholden to labor.

Instead of responding to Mr. Wagner, as the York senator requested, Mr. Pileggi released the letter to the entire Senate – and here we are, poised to watch a fight for control of the Senate we thought Republicans already had.

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The GOP gets a crack at the U.S. Senate

Published by Mike Pound on .

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky.,Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (AP photo)

Mitch McConnell says we're "hungry for new leadership." And we "want a reason to be hopeful."

Whether or not the man who will likely be the next U.S. Senate majority leader is correct in his assessment, the impetus behind it is – the Republicans have taken over the Senate.

The Democrats began the day with a 55-45 majority in the chamber (including two independents). They've ended it in the minority, after Republicans flipped available seats Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and, as we noted much earlier in the evening, West Virginia. And there could be more: late returns from Alaska are expected to show a win for Dan Sullivan and Bill Cassidy is expected to win a Dec. 6 runoff against Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

We have new leadership, yes. It's not as clear that means we have a reason to be hopeful. The federal government has been stuck in neutral with a split between the houses on Capitol Hill; will a solidified Republican majority make any difference with a Democrat still entrenched in the White House? Can we count on progress when members of Mr. McConnell's own party won't pledge their support to the new majority?

With one third of voters who backed Republican candidates professing disappointment – or even anger – with the GOP, it may be that Mr. McConnell doesn't have much time to figure it out.

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Costa: Dems lose 32nd, 46th Senate seats

Published by Mike Pound on .

Camera BartolottaCamera Bartolotta

By Janice Crompton

A Democratic leader conceded two hard-fought state Senate seats have likely been lost.

Reached late Tuesday, Senate minority leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said it was likely his party would lose the 32nd and 46th Senate Districts.

46th: State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, continues a downward spiral against Republican challenger Camera Bartolotta of Carroll.

Ms. Bartolotta, 50, a small business owner, held tight to a growing lead most of Tuesday night and appeared poised to snatch the seat from Mr. Solobay, who has held it since 2010, when longtime Democratic Sen. J. Barry Stout retired.

Mr. Solobay, 58, a volunteer fire chief, has not conceded the race, but has yet to take the lead against Ms. Bartolotta.

32nd: There weren't many races nastier than the one to replace retiring Sen. Rich Kasunic, but in the end, a Republican -- the first in decades to hold the seat -- was the winner, Costa said. Pat Stefano beat out Democratic state Rep. Deb Kula for the win.