Morning Must Reads: Frackers Go Shopping, Students See Tuition Rise and the Delaware River Used to Peal Paint Off the Bottom of Boats

A new report sums up campaign contributions from natural gas companies to elected officials in Pennsylvania. I'm sure it is just a coincidence that the state House Finance Committee has settled on a drilling fee that is the equivalent of just 1% over the life of a typical Marcellus Shale gas well.

A four-month study by Common Cause, which calls itself the people's lobby, found that over the past 10 years, natural gas companies have spent more than $747 million across the country on a 'stunningly successful' campaign to win the support of members of Congress and state legislators for 'weak' regulations. The study was released at a news conference in Harrisburg...

For state politicians, Gov. Tom Corbett was far and away the leader, at $1.6 million. Second was state Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati at $282,034; third was state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, at $105,732. House Republican leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, got $79,100. Republican senators Don White, R-Indiana, and Jake Corman, R-Centre, got $69,125 and $65,640 respectively, while GOP House Speaker Sam Smith got $58,000..House Democrat Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, got $53,300...

The groups also criticized a bill that won approval from the House Finance Committee last week and could face a full House vote next week. It would impose a fee on drillers that amounts to 1 percent over the life of a gas well, which could produce $160 million in profits for its company, said Sharon Ward of the Budget and Policy Center.

In totally unrelated news, the Community College of Allegheny County, which provides training to workers in the natural gas industry, has already raised tuition twice this year and looks headed for a third increase if Allegheny County cuts another $7 million from its budget.

Students at Community College of Allegheny County could face a third tuition hike in 12 months if county council adopts a 2012 budget that cuts CCAC funding by $7 million, the school's president warned on Thursday.

Speaking to members of council's budget and finance committee, President Alex Johnson described cost-cutting steps the college already has taken in response to previous reductions in state and county funding. The loss of another $7 million from the college's $104 million budget could mean layoffs, closing of facilities and higher borrowing costs, he said...

County Executive Dan Onorato proposed a $7 million reduction in county funding for CCAC from about $23 million to $16 million.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports this morning on what could be an exciting innovation in tax avoidance that asks why donate to politicians to avoid fees when you can just choose not to pay them. We truly do have one of the most innovative financial sectors in the world!

Pennsylvania's 67 counties may have lost $100 million in fees because of a system that assigns mortgages without recording documents in county courthouses, according to a lawsuit filed by Washington County.

The county sued U.S. Bank Corp. of Minneapolis in Washington County Court, claiming the bank failed to pay a $52 recording fee when it acquired residential properties bundled in investment securities and sold them through the Mortgage Electronic Registration System Inc. of Reston, Va., known as MERS...

In the lawsuit, Washington County estimated it lost $1.6 million in recording fees over seven years from U.S. Bank's failure to record mortgages it acquired. Based on the estimated losses, about 30,470 mortgages were not recorded in the county.

Finally, the Philadelphia City Paper explores the history of the Delaware River and asks whether the era of fracking could threaten the source of just over half of the drinking water in Philadelphia.

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