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State Budget Talks Continue Facing Thursday Deadline

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

In the final week of the 2015-16 Fiscal Year, a budget agreement for 2016-17 remains a work in progress. Legislative leaders in the House and Senate met twice on Sunday, and told reporters that they are moving ever closer to an agreement on a final spending number. According to media reports, the bipartisan budget deal that was taking shape was jelling somewhere between $31 billion and $32 billion. Differences are still being worked out over new sources of revenue, although cigarette taxes, increased liquor sales and expanded gaming are said to factor into the revenue equation.   In an effort to generate more non-tax revenue for state spending, the House adopted a gaming expansion amendment last week that allows for internet-based gaming for players 21 years of age and older; permits players 18 years of age and older to participate in daily fantasy sports betting; authorizes the state’s five racetrack casinos to put slot machines at a certain number of off-track better parlors; allows for slot machines at airports; and changes rules related to resort casinos and sports wagering. All told, the House-passed gambling reform package is projected to net between $150 million to $200 million in annual revenue for the Commonwealth.

Before the House adopted the gaming reform amendment by a bipartisan 115-80 vote, the chamber voted down another amendment that would have implemented these changes, plus legalized video poker and other gaming machines in bars.   Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf announced early last week during a radio interview that he has taken personal income and sales tax hikes off the table in 2016-17 state budget negotiations. While he is still asking for $250 million for basic education and $34 million to combat the state’s heroin crisis, he said during the interview: “I think all this can be done without a broad based tax increase. I’m not asking for a Sales Tax increase or Personal Income Tax increase. I think we can do all this; the balanced budget, the increase in education and heroin initiatives without a broad based tax increase. So, I think that we’re making some good progress. I think we’re very close.”

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