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W.Va., Ohio Still Trying

Pa. claims other states still trying to lure ‘cracker’ project

June 14, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday he has heard that Ohio and West Virginia are still trying to lure away a petrochemical refinery planned for western Pennsylvania, as he presses lawmakers to approve a $1.7 billion tax credit for the project before they leave Harrisburg for the summer.

Meanwhile, many of Corbett's other end-of-session priorities are stalled or moving slowly - even in a Legislature controlled by his fellow Republicans - and GOP legislative leaders are resisting his efforts to pare down their spending plans and put more money in reserve for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Closed-door budget negotiations between Corbett and top GOP lawmakers continued Tuesday, with no major progress reported.

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The recently revealed tax credit being sought by Corbett for the ethane cracker facility, which would be built by a subsidiary of Netherlands-based oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC, would be the biggest taxpayer-paid incentives package in Pennsylvania history, lawmakers say.

Corbett would not say how crucial it is to the project that the Legislature approve the tax credit in the next three weeks. If approved, the 25-year tax credit would take effect in 2017.

"I'm not going to get into that," Corbett said. "There's certain things I can't go into, there's a confidentiality agreement (with Shell). But I believe it is important that we show that we're moving forward with this to give them the opportunity to bring the petrochemical industry to Pennsylvania."

Corbett bills the project as the reindustrialization of the state. But he warned that "from what I hear" Ohio and West Virginia were still trying to lure the Shell facility after losing the initial bidding round to Pennsylvania. Ohio and West Virginia also had offered Shell substantial tax incentives for the plant.

In March, Shell announced it had picked a site on the banks of the Ohio River, near Monaca, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The company said it signed a land option agreement so it can further evaluate the site.

The Legislature has a full plate for June and, with most lawmakers up for re-election in November, voting session days in September and October could be light.

Republican leaders have been meeting privately almost daily for the past week with Corbett as they try to put the wraps on a no-new-taxes $27 billion-plus budget.

As school districts around the state prepare to lay off thousands of teachers for a second straight year, a key point of the budget negotiation revolves around the extent to which lawmakers are able to wipe out Corbett's proposed funding cuts for education. Corbett has tried to tamp down spending now to save money to pay the state's spiraling costs for public employee pensions in the future.

Part of the debate involves whether to plug holes in the budget by transferring cash from programs that benefit from dedicated sources of outside money, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre.

"It's been pretty good. No one's really drawn a line in the sand and said, 'It's this or nothing,'" Corman said.

Meanwhile, Corbett's efforts to substantially change public school policy - easing the creation of charter schools, using taxpayer money for vouchers to send children to private schools and broadening the criteria for teacher performance evaluations - appears stuck.

"The big ones, the ones that are supposedly controversial, are uncertain right now," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin.

Piccola, a key proponent for expanding charter schools and creating school vouchers, also panned an emerging idea from voucher proponents in the House of Representatives to use the state's $75 million Educational Improvement Tax Credit as a model for a $100 million alternative to Piccola's voucher bill.

Piccola called the bill "fiscally irresponsible" and questioned where the money for it could be found at a time when a school district like Harrisburg's is so financially strapped it is considering dropping kindergarten and athletics.

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