HAZLETON — Ed Pawlowski would explore a severance tax on natural gas drilling and the leasing of state liquor stores as two options for restoring funding to public schools and other programs hit hard by cuts, the two-term Allentown mayor said during a gubernatorial campaign stop here on Tuesday.
Democrat Pawlowski predicted that a 4 percent tax on the volume of gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania could generate $1.2 billion in revenues by 2019 — and given the implementation of such taxes in other states, such as West Virginia and Texas, he does not believe it would hamper this state’s gas drilling industry.
“Look, the gas is here. We have the gas. Where are they going to go?” Pawlowski said of drillers. “I think they just want to know what the rules are.”
Pawlowski, 48, who also is running for a third term as mayor of the state’s third-largest city, kicked off his bid to unseat first-term Republican Gov. Tom Corbett during a nationally televised Sept. 8 interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.
He became the seventh Democrat to formally announce a bid for the state’s top office, with several others still considered likely to enter the field.
Pawlowski’s stop in Hazleton was part of a nine-day, 23-county tour that began last week and included a Scranton appearance earlier on Tuesday.
He spoke before a largely Spanish-speaking audience gathered Tuesday afternoon at La Casa Dominicana de Hazleton, a community center on North Laurel Street, with his remarks translated by an interpreter.
“Cities are built on immigrants. They bring energy and creativity into the marketplace,” Pawlowski said. He sees the relative harmony among Allentown’s 40 ethnic groups — and his efforts to increase diversity in city government and administration — as a blueprint for what is possible across the state, at the neighborhood level and in Harrisburg’s corridors of power.
Building bridges was a key theme emphasized by the two-term mayor, who said that Pennsylvania’s next governor will need to break through partisan gridlock in Harrisburg before anything of substance can be accomplished, whether that be passage of a transportation bill or increasing funding to schools or attracting more jobs to the state.
“The next governor needs to have a vision and is going to need to be able to sell that vision across the state,” Pawlowski said.
That, he said, is what he has done in Allentown over the past eight years, pointing to results ranging from a billion dollars in new development to a deal to lease his city’s water and sewer plant to a county authority, generating $220 million. That enabled Allentown to fully fund its pension liabilities and reduce the city’s overall debt by 38 percent, he added.
He believes a similar arrangement could be applied to Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores.
“We don’t have to sell them. No one has to lose their job,” Pawlowski said.
Whatever revenue options the state pursues, Pawlowski said, restoration of funding to all levels of education is a key priority, both for its impact on residents’ lives and to foster job creation.
While quick to point out he is not proposing cuts to the prison system, Pawlowski said an increase in state spending on that sector from $80 million in 1990 to $1.75 billion today is symptomatic of cuts to education.
“We have more people in prison in this country than any other country, including China,” he said. “If we don’t start promoting public education now, we’re just going to be building bigger prisons later.”