With Pennsylvania lawmakers still unable to explain Sunday how they would pay for a roughly $31.5 billion spending bill it has approved (see previous reports), Gov. Tom Wolf moderated his demand that they deliver a sustainable funding plan and said he would not stop it from becoming law.
Wolf changed his stance during a Sunday evening news conference, just 30 hours before the midnight Monday deadline to act on the spending bill that lawmakers passed June 30.
The Associated Press news agency reported that confidential bipartisan discussions among legislative teams are seeking workable funding proposals of around $1.3 billion, which could be raised through a higher tax on cigarettes and an expansion of gambling – including online gambling operated by state land casino companies.
The debate over how to close the gap in Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances has left it as the only US state government without an enacted budget for part or all of the new 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
On Sunday night, lawmakers and legislative staff said it looked increasingly doubtful that an agreed budget funding package would make it to the governor’s desk by Monday. A brief House session started and ended without action on major budget legislation.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed said negotiators still have disagreements over some elements in the $1.3 billion revenue proposal.
Legalising a move into online gambling could generate lucrative licence fees right away, lawmakers claim.
However, the House and Senate have yet to agree on what the gambling expansion package should contain; the House has passed a proposal (including online gambling) but it has bogged down in the Senate (see previous reports).
At his Sunday press conference, Gov. Wolf said he was confident that the state Legislature will deliver a solution to the funding gap by the Monday midnight deadline.
“I believe this can, I believe it should be done, by the end of the day tomorrow,” he said.
Wolf revealed that senior Senate Republicans have questioned the House’s plans, saying they rely on unrealistic projections.
Senate leaders have also expressed misgivings about the House’s proposal to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes, as well as the scope of The House’s gambling expansion measure, which calls for legalising online gambling and placing slots in airports and off-track betting parlours.