Who is behind pro-drilling TV ads that questions taxes on the industry?

An image from the ad paid for by a group called Citizens to Protect PA Jobs.
An image from the ad paid for by a group called Citizens to Protect PA Jobs.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The state budget is due in one month and one day.

Increasing taxes on Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers will no doubt be part of the discussion ahead of the June 30 deadline.

While the governor and lawmakers negotiate behind closed doors, a pro-drilling group has gone public with its concerns – very public.

In a statewide television and radio ad campaign, the commercials warn that increased taxes on gas drillers will lead to a decrease in jobs and hurt the economy.

The ad is paid for by a group called Citizens to Protect PA Jobs.

“In the ad it gives the impression there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about a severance tax, but in fact it’s just an industry front,” said Jan Jarrett, a consultant for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

ABC27 has obtained financial documents that link Citizens to Protect PA Jobs to Gene Barr, who is also the executive director of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. The listed address is 417 Walnut Street in Harrisburg, same as the Pennsylvania Chamber.

“I’m here to tell you, yes, the chamber is engaged in this,” Barr said of the advertising campaign, “because it allows us to communicate to a broader audience, much as many, many other organizations in this town do.”

The documents show that the group has $425,000 on hand and it’s buying television and radio spots across the state, including on ABC27. It also has a website with one main message:

“The message is that this natural gas industry shouldn’t be saddled with additional taxes,” Barr said.

Governor Wolf campaigned on raising Marcellus taxes to increase school funding. Wolf won the election handily and polls show most Pennsylvanians support increased taxes on drillers.

“Most people think we don’t tax it at all, which is absolutely incorrect,” Barr said. “We have an impact tax already. Our perspective is you shouldn’t single out and tax one industry to fund a public good.”

Citizens to Protect PA Jobs hopes the ad campaign raises awareness.

It has certainly raised eyebrows.

“The question is why does the chamber choose to hide behind a front like that?” Jarrett said. “Why not just say that it’s an industry sponsored ad? I would prefer to see better transparency.”

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