Drilling for a Compromise

“We will get a budget done on time as long as they don’t want to spend more money than I do. If they come in with $27.35 [billion], then we’ll be there until July 1 or 2 or 3 or 4.”

Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett in the Post-Gazette Monday

There’s a little book I’ve read called “Getting to Yes,” one of the most widely read texts on negotiation. To give  you a quick book report on what it says, it says, don’t do what Mr. Corbett is doing. What he is doing is called “bargaining from positions.” He’s drawing a line, he’s setting his feet, he’s lowering his head like a bull.

The book’s authors, Roger Fisher and William Ury, would implore Mr. Corbett to do something else, to bargain from interests, the underlying motivators for setting a position.

So, what are Mr. Corbett’s interests? Surely carving away at the state’s education system isn’t one of his interests. But, so far, that’s what he’s put forth, cutting Pa. schools by $1 billion.

His true and stated interest, however reasoned or not, is to not raise taxes, one of, if not his only, campaign rallying cries.

If my interest is to maintain school funding and Mr. Corbett’s interest is to keep taxes steady, Fisher and Ury would say we have something to work with. And it doesn’t even mean Corbett has to budge from his $27.35 billion line in the sand. We just need to find some way to boost our revenue. Fortunately there is such a way.

Pennsylvania has been blessed (or cursed) with Marcellus Shale. Natural gas from the formation, which is so large and lucrative that some are calling Pa. the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, has provided a great influx of revenue. The state could tap into that influx with a tax, which has been proposed, but so far, Corbett has refused.

Conservatives are often wary of taxes, but if anybody should be taxed, drillers are one group maybe we should look at. There is a flip side to the revenue coin.

The cons: Drilling is a dirty business, and the method of drilling used here, hydrofracking, is even dirtier. There are reports of methane gas in drinking water in such high concentrations that it can be lit on fire; dangerous, even poisonous chemicals being used to extract the natural gas; and even radioactive material being a byproduct.

Corbett has refused the drilling tax, but if his goals are not to raise taxes and not spend more than $27.35 billion, he has to find a way to bridge the gap. Perhaps there are other places in the budget to cut, other taxes to levy, but cutting education and not taxing the drillers can’t be our best option.

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