Vote on House Republicans' 'Taxpayers Budget' is scheduled

PA House Back In Session, But Will It Pass A Budget That Includes Online Gambling?

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After a seven-week vacation, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives returned to Harrisburg on Monday. Time continues to tick away without a budget plan in place.

Gambling supporters hope the legislature will finally pass a budget that includes a gaming package, something that’s been ballyhooed more times than a Cotton Mather date for the end of the world.

Such a package would, among other things, legalize online gambling, online lottery and daily fantasy sports. It’s a single but important component of a larger plan to fund Pennsylvania’s 2017-18 budget.

As one insider put it, the gaming part of the budget is all predicated on the other revenue being done first.

Stalemate on the PA budget

Thus far, the House and the Senate have been unable to agree on a funding plan for the budget they passed earlier this summer.

The singular holdout appears to be a sizable contingent of House Republicans who have their own ideas on how to balance the state budget. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than a group that all wants the same thing.

The House Republican holdouts include two core groups that don’t entirely overlap:

  1. Republicans opposed to new taxes of any kind.
  2. Republicans in favor of legalizing video gaming terminals at bars, restaurants and truck stops.

Both groups have put forth budget proposals.

After leadership’s plan fails, a widely mocked alternative appears

After House leadership failed to whip enough votes for a budget funding bill that included the resurrection of video gaming terminals, the House went on its summer recess.

With no budget plan in place, the state has been borrowing money to pay for essential services.

But not everyone went home.

Over Labor Day Weekend, a group of House Republicans put forth a bare-bones budget proposal that relies almost entirely on raiding other funds to fill budget shortfalls.

Penn Live summed up the “Taxpayers’ Budget” thusly:

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.

Noticeably absent during the unveiling of this proposal were members of House leadership.

The absence of leadership support for the bill has many convinced the Taxpayers’ Budget isn’t a serious proposal.

Furthermore, the bill is austerity on steroids, and Democrats in the House and Senate have not been kind to the plan, mercilessly mocking it on Twitter and pointing out the many harmful impacts of such severe cuts.

Editorials and reporting have been equally unkind. The budget would cause a slew of cuts: from public transportation to 911 call centers and volunteer fire departments.

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What does this mean for online gambling?

It’s unlikely this latest proposal will make it to the finish line. However, it is slated for a vote on Tuesday. But House Republican leadership has shown no signs of backing off its support for VGTs. And the Senate has shown no signs of relaxing its opposition to the VGT proposal.

The fear isn’t VGTs will replace online gambling (they would likely both be included); the fear is that insistence on VGTs will extend the current stalemate in perpetuity and derail the chances Pennsylvania passes anything more than a stop-gap budget funding package.

Unfortunately, if a long-term compromise can’t be reached, a short-term fix might be the only path forward. That would almost certainly mean online gambling — and many other popular budget proposals — get shelved.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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