Two hundred million dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is.
But when you spread it among the state and more than a thousand municipalities, the individual shares aren't nearly so impressive.
And, that's too bad.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly had a chance to do better when it enacted a natural gas drilling impact fee (no one dare call it a tax) last year, bowing to howling by critics that Pennsylvania's party in power wasn't Republican or Democrat but the oil and gas industry.
Instead of a severance tax, which every other major gas producing state has had for a long time, Gov. Corbett and his legislature opted instead for a flat fee per well that is paid into a fund on a declining schedule, so that ultimately the gas is produced tax-free.
According to the Public Utility Commission, which collects it, the new fee produced $200 million for the fund. The state takes 25 percent off the top; 60 percent of the rest is split among 37 counties and about 1500 municipalities. Each recipient's take is prorated based on how many wells are in its jurisdiction. Bradford County, which has the most wells, will get between $6 million and $9 million; Warren County, much, much less.
According to the non-partisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Pennsylvania could have done better, much better. In fact, if a natural gas drilling tax modeled on West Virginia's levy had been in place, the state could have realized $387 million between July 2009 and December 2011, based on production data from the Department of Environmental Protection. During that time frame about $6 billion worth of natural gas was produced in Pennsylvania, making the effective rate of what has been paid a hair over 3 percent.
Another $187 million could have gone a long way toward alleviating some of the drastic cuts in education over the past couple years, or some of the cuts to human services that local governments are now shouldering.
Interestingly, the Marcellus Shale Coalition has used the revenue announcement to press for "local zoning uniformity," a piece of the Marcellus law that was recently struck down in court. Theoretically removing local zoning restrictions on oil and gas exploration, production and treatment would make things even better for the industry.