House plan diverges widely from Senate version, with no online gambling, no new taxes
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New PA Revenue Plan From House Republicans Has No Online Gambling, But It May Not Be Popular

PA online gambling
A group of House Republicans in Pennsylvania unveiled a possible plan to pay for a shortfall in the state budget, months after the Senate passed one.

That plan — what amounts to a one-year fix — does not include a gaming expansion package that would legalize and regulate online gambling. However, it’s not clear how many people in Harrisburg are taking the new plan seriously.

The new revenue plan in PA

The House plan seeks to take money from a variety of special funds to account for $2.3 billion in revenue that would attempt to balance the state budget.

Here’s what the group of 18 lawmakers that put the plan together had to say about their revenue package, via the House Republican caucus:

The Taxpayers’ Budget we presented today is the result of a comprehensive examination of the state budget, during which we discovered taxpayer dollars stowed away and sitting idle in special government accounts with high, unused balances. Some of the 218 accounts we inspected are dormant and have not been drawn down in recent years. Tapping these accounts is not a new concept. …

The outcome of our work is a plan that would fund the budget while protecting taxpayers. This plan does not include borrowing money, nor would it raise taxes on natural gas, electric and telephone bills, which would hurt every taxpayer in the state.

Where exactly does the money come from?

Here’s the breakdown, from Penn Live:

The so-called “Taxpayers’ Budget” would sweep more than $1.2 billion in accumulated reserves from 41 of those special accounts.

An additional $1.1 billion would come from a combination of other sources like court settlements, unspent funds from prior year budgets, legislative surpluses and nearly $200 million in funding freezes in the current budget.

Where does online gambling come in?

It doesn’t. The Senate revenue package includes $200 million from a gaming package with iGaming in its provisions.

But this new House plan has very little in common with the Senate package, and that includes issues much bigger than gambling.

How serious is the new budget plan?

The new revenue plan comes from a group of rank-and-file members of the House.

Members of House leadership, including Speaker Mike Turzai, did not attend a House GOP presser for the revenue package or champion it. Their willingness to pass such a bill is an unknown. We may find out the momentum behind it when the House returns to session next week.

But it doesn’t seem like this plan has much of a chance to pass, as-is. From the Morning Call:

But critics say the fiscally conservative GOP lawmakers’ plan would hurt the people it is meant to protect by siphoning money from dozens of public projects.

The plan — which is a long way from becoming law and elicited misgivings from other Republicans and from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf — would take.

A one-time fix vs. a real revenue plan

There is also the issue that lawmakers and Wolf are not that excited about the short-term fix for a budget that is not adequately funded. Even in a best-case scenario, the House GOP plan only appears to solve the shortfall from last fiscal year, and only part of the projected shortfall for FY 2017-2018.

The Senate and Wolf would rather come up with a plan that is mostly funded by sustainable and recurring revenue, rather than depend on one-time payments like the House plan details. Such a plan would include online gambling, both the governor and the upper chamber have agreed.

More from the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board:

Given Pennsylvania’s dire straits, it must evaluate every expenditure and fund to make sure money is spent wisely. But one-time fixes and fund transfers won’t solve a long-term problem.

What’s next in PA?

Things have mostly been silent as far as real progress on the budget in recent months. The new plan from the House at least indicates a willingness by some to end the status quo of inaction.

Wolf said that he would start freezing some state spending on Sept. 15. A revenue plan certainly isn’t going to pass both the House and the Senate and get to Wolf’s desk in a week. But that move should start generating even more momentum for lawmakers to get a deal done.

The Inquirer board also notes “It’s a good bet that more gambling … will become part of the solution.” Whether that’s true will have to wait until an actual revenue package starts advancing once again.

Image credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.