[toc]It sure looked like things were trending in a good direction when it comes to the Pennsylvania budget. After months of inactivity, House GOP members and Gov. Tom Wolf seemed to be close to a compromise.
Turns out they weren’t.
Budget talks break down between GOP and Wolf
Wolf blasted the Republicans in state office after the group failed to pass three different tax bills. Additionally, the group did not approve a Senate budget proposal either. The Allentown Morning Call reported on Wolf’s public statement about the legislative impasse, which included the following:
“One thing has become abundantly clear, too many Republicans in the Legislature are more focused on the 2018 elections than on helping Pennsylvania succeed. They’d rather protect special interest, they’d rather protect lobbyists and campaign donations than do the right thing. I’m not going to play their games any more. So I am drawing a line in the sand.”
After presumably making headway at the end of September, House GOP members stuck to their guns aboutb, including a proposed 5 percent rate on hotel stays.
Major university funding now at risk
With a $2.2 billion shortfall unaddressed, these lawmakers forced Wolf’s hand in a way that could have a huge impact on the state’s major univerisities.
Left with seemingly no other option, Wolf announced a new, 20-year loan for $1.25 billion from the state’s Liquor Control Board. The state will pay back the loan via tax breaks on liquor taxes.
Should the loan go through, it raises questions about another bill on the state tab. There is currently a bill in the House to provide $650 million to major public universities in the state, like Penn State University and Temple University.
With the need to cut budget corners everywhere possible, it stands to reason lawmakers could leave the universities in the lurch. If so, some of these schools might choose to go fully private. Should that happen, tuition breaks for in-state students could disappear.
What about gambling expansion?
With the safety net of this new loan out there, the urgency to pass a budget wanes. With it, so does the chances of PA online gambling happening in 2017.
To paraphrase The Princess Bride, online gambling is only mostly dead. There are a couple of different reasons supporters can keep their hopes up.
First of all, individual lawmakers are going on the record that gambling expansion remains in the mix to address some of the budget shortfall. Erie News spoke with Democratic state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, who assured gaming is still on the table. It is just tax increases the House Republicans absolutely refuse to endorse.
Additionally, the college funding issue is a bargaining chip many lawmakers could use to get online gambling through. Granted, most estimates assume year one of gambling expansion would generate around $220 million. There would also be about $100 million in upfront licensing fees.
That is not $650 million, but it is a giant chunk to direct to the cause. However, the more aggressive House expansion package allows for widespread video gambling terminals (VGTs), which arguably could make up some of the difference.
Given the legislature’s inability to agree on a budget necessary to keep Pennsylvania solvent, don’t assume that this logical decision takes place. All we can say for now is that gambling expansion still has a pulse, but gone is the momentum that seemed so overwhelming during the summer.
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