Pa. House to vote on $31.5B budget with iGaming, tobacco taxes
HARRISBURG — The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a $31.5 billion state budget that raises taxes on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and relies on new revenue from a proposal for online gaming.
The full House is expected to vote on the package Tuesday. It’s not a budget agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. But it is a first step toward meeting a deadline of midnight Thursday for passage of a 2016-17 state budget.
“I think we have an agreement with House Democrats. That doesn’t say that everybody is going to vote for this tomorrow,” Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware County, said Monday. “Quite frankly, I feel a lot better this year than I did last year at this time.”
It’s a budget driven by efforts to avoid anything resembling last year’s nine-month impasse between Wolf and the GOP House and Senate.
It boosts spending by $1.4 billion, almost 5 percent, but is significantly less than the $33.3 billion sought by the governor.
“The governor looks forward to continuing to work with the legislature, and as the budget moves through the process, he is hopeful all sides can reach an agreement that achieves these goals,” said Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman.
The budget proposes $200 million more for basic education—a priority of the governor’s. It would provide a $25 million increase for Pre-K Counts, a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk children, and a $20 million boost for special education.
The legalization of iGaming and daily fantasy sports would boost revenues along with “wine privatization,” allowing up to four bottles of wine to be purchased from facilities with restaurant licenses, including grocery stores, said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republican leadership.
Cigarettes will go up $1 a pack. While smokeless tobacco would be taxed, cigars would not.
The budget dedicates $15 million toward battling opioid addiction. Wolf called for $34 million.
“While this is not a perfect document — they never are — this is a budget that was hard-fought and hard-won by a lot of people in this room,” said Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville.
Wolf called a special session of the legislature on what he called an opioid crisis.
The spending plan was unveiled just hours after conservative House GOP members complained Monday morning there’s a lack of transparency, even for elected members, on the budget.
Conservative House Republicans on Monday complained that the public is being shut out of closed-door budget negotiations with a deadline looming for on-time passage by midnight Thursday.
A handful of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats have been meeting secretly to conduct budget talks with Wolf. That’s not unusual and is the norm for budget negotiations.
“We need to alert people they are meeting behind closed doors and they may be trying to take more money out of your pocket,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.
Some tax increases, including shifting a sales tax on utilities to natural gas customers, are being discussed. Miskin said the gross receipts tax on natural gas is not included.
In December, conservative House GOP members blocked a so-called framework for higher spending and increased taxes pushed by Wolf. Wolf is not seeking a personal income tax and sales tax increase this year.
Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and [email protected]. Carley Mossbrook is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.