Last Week of State Fiscal Year Focuses on Gaming Discussions, Other Unknowns

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

With only a few days left in the 2016-17 Fiscal Year, lawmakers are scheduled to be in session through June 30, the state’s constitutional budget deadline. More session days may be scheduled as necessary.

Legislative leaders remain engaged in conversations over what the next year’s budget plan will look like, and details are scarce. There continue to be questions over what the Senate’s version of H.B. 271 – the gaming expansion bill – will contain, and based on a conversation that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had last week with Capitolwire, they are a long way off in reaching agreement. “My experience with gaming in the Senate Republican caucus I can boil down real simply,” Scarnati told the media outlet. “We have a third of the members of the Senate Republican caucus that are opposed to gaming because they oppose gaming. We have a third of them that have gaming interests in their district so they are somewhat not in favor of competition for casinos. We’ve got a third of the members in the caucus that, you know, could be influenced possibly one way or the other to vote for something. But there is no strong consensus. And when you start out with two-thirds of your caucus that principally are either against it or certainly economically opposed to something, it’s difficult. That’s why we’re where we are at.” Meanwhile, the House remains ready to go “all in” on gaming expansion as a way to generate up to $270 million in annual recurring revenue, with its version of the bill containing sweeping changes and allowing for video gaming terminals in bars, taverns and the like.

There are also said to be conversations about other forms of revenue to fill a $1.2 billion budget hole in the coming Fiscal Year, including borrowing and/or using money from the state’s share of the nationwide Tobacco Settlement Fund. In speaking with reporters last week, the governor didn’t outright oppose these ideas, but voiced concerns. The Associated Press has said that while Wolf is counting on an extra $250 million in money from new forms of gaming, the Department of Revenue has said doing so could lead to losses from the Pennsylvania Lottery and at casinos. “I want real revenue, and I want net revenue,'” Wolf told the press. “I don’t want anything that we do in gaming or gambling to interfere with the revenues that are already in place. If it just cannibalizes and takes from one bucket called gambling to another, the commonwealth isn’t doing anything more than it has in the past.”