House and Senate lawmakers return to Harrisburg for session this week. With less than two months until the end of the Fiscal Year, they will have to take into account the state’s $1.2 billion revenue shortfall and incorporate that reality into their plans for spending in 2017-18. The law requires that the budget must be balanced; therefore, further cuts to spending, new taxes or other proposals to generate revenue will be necessary to close the gap. The House awaits Senate action on H.B. 218, the budget vehicle they passed a little more than a month ago that relies on gaming expansion and liquor reforms to generate new revenue, which the Senate Appropriations Committee could take up as early as this week.
On Friday, Senator John Gordner expressed concern about gaming expansion generating significant new revenue. He feels gaming in Pennsylvania may be at a saturation point, and that further expansion may result in reduced lottery proceeds for senior citizen programs. His comments were made at the budget breakfast sponsored by the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau held at The Greenly Center in downtown Bloomsburg. Representative David Millard and Harold Hurst from Rep. Kurt Masser’s office also participated.
Jennifer Reis, Manager of Government Affairs with the PA Chamber of Business & Industry, provided an overview of $32.2 billion budget proposed by Governor Wolf, as well as the $31.5 billion spending plan advanced by the House. While the Governor’s budget did not address the state’s public pension crisis, Senator Gordner believes that legislation to provide a long-term solution will be advanced and signed by the Governor. As the state Supreme Court would likely declare any changes in benefits to existing employees unconstitutional, a solution for immediate relief is unlikely.
Senator Gordner and Representative Millard felt confident that a budget bill will be provided to the Governor by the June 30 deadline.