[toc]The Pennsylvania House finally passed a budget. They came down to the wire before doing so though. The state faces a statewide spending freeze starting Sept. 15. So, on Wednesday the House finally pushed something through. However it is unlikely the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf will agree to a budget before the deadline.
PA passed a spending budget in July
To remind you how long this budget fight went on, lawmakers okayed the spending side of the budget back in July. Since then, House Republicans basically refused to play ball. The group insisted on no new taxes. Instead they offered some far-fetched options, including borrowing from other, more robust state funds to cover its deficit.
That deficit amounts to $2.2 billion, so the notion of searching through government funds for what amounted to spare change did not go over well.
In the end, the House met in the middle. In their bill, there will be a $1 billion loan to cover some of the shortfall. The remaining billion would be siphoned from funds with surplus this year. Some of those funds include mass transit and environmental protection.
Another major issue of the budget is that it already puts Pennsylvania $700 million in the hole when it comes to next year’s budget.
Given the less than ideal proposal, it took hours of debate before the House passed its budget. It got through by the relatively scant margin of 103-91. That result just barely eked through, as 102 votes were necessary for it to pass. Now it is on to the Senate, who is on quite the time crunch, as the spending freeze starts on Friday.
Online gambling to cover remaining $200 million
If you are wondering where online gambling fits in, it is still a piece of the puzzle. The remaining $225 million of the shortfall is earmarked to be covered by gambling expansion.
Those familiar with the issue might recognize this tactic. The legislature opted for a similar move last year. They earmarked budget for gambling, voted on the budget, then never got a gambling bill through.
The current House budget is purposefully very vague about what the gambling expansion package could entail. Pennsylvania law does require the casino measure to pass independent of the budget.
What comes next?
The next step is for the Senate to sign off on this House budget plan. If that happens, then Wolf needs to sign off on it as well.
That sounds easier than it is. Wolf openly slammed the budget. As Lehigh Valley Live reports, Wolf’s office hates what the House pushed through.
Wolf’s office issued a statement that the proposal would cause “significant, damaging cuts to transportation, recreation, public safety and environmental programs.”
So, while the House is getting closer to a reasonable solution for the state, it is not exactly major progress. The bright spot is that gamblig expansion remains in the mix. Borrowing from other funds and natural gas taxation remain the most hot-button issues. Meanwhile, save for VGTs, everyone in the legislature does seem prepared to get gambling expansion through in 2017.
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