Every year for the four years he's been in office, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has pushed hard for a severance tax on Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale natural gas industry.
Every year, he has been rebuffed. This past year was no exception. And as he runs for re-election this fall, Wolf has vowed to keep pursuing the tax, which would provide a steady source of revenue for public education and other programs.
We have agreed with that call and encouraged legislative authorization of a tax. We continue to believe that it is long overdue.
It's true that Wolf came tantalizingly close to landing the tax in 2017, when the majority-GOP Senate approved a shale levy as part of a revenue package to balance the fiscal 2017-18 state budget. The proposal collapsed under its own weight in the Republican-controlled House during an amendment free-for-all.
As had been the case in past years, the shale industry and its very effective lobbyists were able to successfully argue that the tax would be a job-killer and would force the multi-billion industry to move onto greener, more tax-friendly, climes.
Now, thanks to a new report by the advocacy group Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, we know how much money the industry was able to spend to further that message.
The data in the report is a reminder that, while money can't directly buy votes, it can buy access. And it's the kind of access that the average Pennsylvanian can only dream about.
Since 2007, when Pennsylvania first began real debate over a shale levy, industry interests, including the powerful Marcellus Shale Coalition, have spent $69.6 million to lobby Pennsylvania state government.
In addition, lobbyists, PACs, and executives from fracking-related companies have donated $11.2 million to campaign committees registered to the Pennsylvania Department of State, according to the MarcellusMoney report.
Industry interests spent $904,920 in 2017, during the height of the debate of the shale tax.
Spending reached an all-time high of $1.6 million in 2010, the year that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who opposed the tax, won election to his sole, four-year term.
The top two recipients of industry money in 2017-18 were House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, a tax foe, and Wolf himself. They respectively received $128,000 and $78,500 from industry interests, the report indicated.
Erica Clayton Wright, a spokeswoman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, conceded that "with with hundreds of regulations and bills being considered which are designed to impact all aspects of industry operations. The natural gas community transparently engages on the multitude of policy issues being considered in Harrisburg."
But, she said, there others "who spend far more in political contributions and lobbying expenses - are aggressively lobbying to harm economic development and expand the government's overreach."
Critics most often point the finger of blame at public sector unions, who also wield outsized influence.
That's an interesting take. But it doesn't change the fact that the industry is spending massive amounts of money to make its voice heard in Harrisburg.
The report should serve as a clarion call for a serious push for campaign finance reform in Pennsylvania, where the sky's the limit on campaign contributions and the only direct corporate contributions are banned.
Meanwhile, some states impose reasonable limits on the influence of money on their politics. Others are moving to ban fundraising altogether while their Legislatures are in session.
In March, Wolf rolled out an ethics reform package that included a campaign finance reform component. It vanished without a trace.
And lawmakers are about to run out the clock on another legislative session markedly absent of any effort to make state government more transparent or responsive to the needs of the taxpayers.
And that's too bad, since the ultimate losers here are the taxpayers, who end up with a largely unaccountable institution that's repeatedly riddled by corruption and scandal and padded by perks and pensions, and one that remains profoundly uninterested in fixing its ways.
There is a reason, after all, that Pennsylvania received an "F" in 2015 from the Center for Public Integrity, finishing 45th nationwide for ethics and transparency
Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians who feel like they're overshadowed by big-money corporate interests have ample ammo in the MarcellusMoney report.
And confronted by that evidence, their elected officials will have a justifiably tough time explaining to them why they are not.
Fortunately, the report also includes a guide to the biggest beneficiaries of industry largess. And if they're so inclined, Pennsylvanians can exercise their wrath at the ballot box next month.
Even in the face of all that money, a single ballot still remains a leveling influence.