Haggerty Absence In Harrisburg Tuesday May Have Prevented Gas Severance Debate

December 14, 2017 GMT

State Rep. Kevin Haggerty’s absence from Harrisburg on Tuesday may have prevented a floor debate and vote on a state severance tax on natural gas extraction, House Democratic representatives said Wednesday.

For the third day in a row, a Democratic legislator objected Wednesday to excusing Haggerty’s ongoing absence, which began when the House returned from summer recess Sept. 11. The House adjourned Wednesday until January with the possibility that if Haggerty does not resume voting then, he could face a contempt citation. That could happen if he misses two more consecutive voting days and legislators object to excusing his absence.

Haggerty, D-112, Dunmore, has missed 23 straight voting sessions and 300 roll call votes, but few probably loom as large as a vote late Tuesday night centered on a severance tax.

After a long day of voting, extraction tax supporters made a motion to create a special order of business to allow debate on a tax bill. With 75 Democrats and 25 Republicans in favor, the motion had 100 votes.

It needed 101.

“Had the people of the 112th had representation, we might have had a vote on a Marcellus shale tax,” said Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-132, Lehigh, chairman of the 15-member northeast House Democratic delegation that counts Haggerty as a member. “No question about it. He might have cost us a shot at a Marcellus shale tax.”

It is impossible to know how Haggerty would have voted. Three other Democrats had excused absences and one voted no, but Haggerty regularly supported a natural gas severance tax over the years. Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic legislators fought for the tax for years, but Republicans blocked it.

“One vote. Can you believe that? Unbelievable,” state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton, said.

Repeated efforts to reach Haggerty on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful. On Wednesday morning, a call to his Dunmore district office reached only a member of his staff, who said Haggerty wasn’t in, but might be at his Archbald office. A call to the Archbald office was answered by another staff member, who said he was not there.

When a reporter visited both offices in Wednesday afternoon, a staff member in Archbald said he had not been there Wednesday.

At the Dunmore office, a staff member said he had been in that office, but was not there when the reporter visited. Haggerty’s state-leased car, which he began using the same month his absences began, was parked behind the Dunmore office.

He did not return phones messages left for him.

Serving his second term as a legislator, Haggerty contends he cannot travel to Harrisburg because he needs to stay near his two young children as they struggle with his and his wife’s pending divorce. He has refused to comment beyond that.

Haggerty’s annual salary is $87,180.27. His taxpayer-paid salary for his 23 missed voting days equals $5,460.91, based on a 365-day work year since public officials are generally always on duty.

On Wednesday morning, Schlossberg became the latest legislator to object to Haggerty’s absence from Harrisburg following Rep. Mike Carroll, D-118, Avoca, on Monday, and Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Twp. on Tuesday. Each day, House leaders agreed to list the absence as unexcused. No one objected to excusing Haggerty’s previous 20 absences and retroactive objections are not allowed. If no one objects, the House automatically excuses absences if legislators formally request leave daily as Haggerty has done.

If the streak reaches five straight unexcused absences, any five legislators may seek the contempt citation through a full House vote. The penalty for contempt remains unclear because House rules do not specify one for chronic absenteeism.

Schlossberg declined to comment on Haggerty’s divorce-related excuse.

“Grown adults need to figure out how to balance family and professional responsibilities,” he said.

Flynn agreed.

“Everybody who has kids comes here. ... and shows up to vote,” he said. “How does somebody who worked so hard to get here and then not do anything when he gets here? It’s a disgrace to the institution.”

House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-76, Clinton, expressed sympathy for Haggerty’s situation, but declined to say his absence cost Democrats a vote on a several tax. He said he and other legislators have communicated with Haggerty over the past few months, unsuccessfully trying to convince him to return. Only this week, Haggerty sent him a text indicating he would return in January, Hanna said.

“I have to (believe him),” Hanna said. “My job is to get him here and if these objections bring him here as it appears they might, God bless us.”

Contact the writer: bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9147; @BorysBlogTT on Twitter