Monthly Archives: March 2011

CONVERSATIONS WITH A STRAW MAN: CORBETT AND THE SEVERANCE TAX

(Note: This conversation may or may not have happened as recalled here. It is written to illustrate possibilities in the most widely applicable terms. If you find no application for it in real life, consider it fiction.)

“Can you believe that?” the stranger asked me.

“Believe what?” I asked.

“Everyone supports a tax on natural gas drilling,” he responded furiously, “except Corbett!”

Getting this man to move away from the newspaper narrative would first require slowing him down. I felt a question would be of value for this purpose.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked him. He got a curious look on his face, which led me to infer that he anticipated either a strong assertion to support or rebut the claim he was making, adding fuel to the fire one way or the other. He clearly was not expecting a simple question.

“Well, look,” he said, reaching for the paper. I pointed at it and shook my head.

“No newspaper,” I implored. “No links to someone else’s internet post. Please. It’s just you and me, here and now.”

Trying to quickly get back into the conversation, I restated what he had said, filling in some details for approval.

“You just said that everyone in Pennsylvania supports a severance tax on the expanded extraction of natural gas except new Governor Tom Corbett. Is that correct?”

He nodded. “Yeah, everybody but him…what’s he thinking?”

I was more interested in what my new friend was thinking.

I asked the obvious question: “Does everyone else support a tax?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Even the Republicans! Even the industry! Everyone but Corbett.”

I wanted to address some of those claims, but once I did, I felt we’d never get back to the most essential question I hoped I he would ponder. I worked toward that one first.

“So why doesn’t Corbett support the severance tax?” I asked.

“He signed a stupid pledge or something,” he responded, “not to raise taxes.”

“So you want the governor to violate a campaign promise?” I inquired.

The impact was immediate. “Well, in this case…I mean, there’s a poll…”

The uncomfortable pause that followed was long enough for me to ask the direct question I wanted to ask him.

“Do you think you’ll be better off if the governor of your state is willing to violate a key pledge of his campaign in the first quarter of his administration?”

Unfortunately, the conversation ended abruptly. At that point, it was time for us to go our separate ways. The only answer to my question was the look on the man’s face.

When this happens, you know it’s entirely possible you’ll never see the person again.

I short-circuited an unproductive rant and it only took asking questions. I had a number of other questions, but time ran out.

I took what the moment gave me, and saved the remainder of my questions for the next opportunity that I knew could be right around the corner.

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