Gaming expansion among remaining options for closing Pa. budget - Erie News Now | WICU & WSEE in Erie, PA

Gaming expansion among remaining options for closing Pa. budget deficit

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ERIE, Pa. -

Last week, Pennsylvania House Republicans rejected a deal that would push forward a shale gas tax as a way to close the commonwealth's $2.2 billion budget deficit. The 3.5 percent tax would generate an estimated $100-150 million in new revenue.

"Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state in the nation without a severance tax," said Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 4, urging GOP leaders to consider the tax as one option to end a more-than-three month budget stalemate.

But Monday State Representative Ryan Bizzarro (D-Millcreek Twp.) said some GOP lawmakers have opened up to that tax in recent days, making this one option for closing the deficit.

"I definitely think the appetite for a Marcellus Shale extraction fee is there in the House," Bizzarro said by phone from Pittsburgh Monday evening. "Quite frankly, I think it's a lot of Republicans who are afraid to go against their leadership."

Expanded gaming is still an option as well. Lawmakers debated a revenue package last week, that called for expanding online gaming, legalized video gaming at truck stops, and so-called mini casinos in rural areas of the state, which by some estimates could generate at least $200 million.

"I don't see how they do not have gaming as part of this equation moving forward," said Bizzarro.

The controversial "state police tax" on municipalities without their own police force is no longer a part of the equation, he added.

Bizzarro was not among the lawmakers who approved that spending plan this summer. But because of what it includes, he says additional new revenue is a must.

"It's inexcusable to not have a revenue package three months after you have the spending plan," he said.

Both the Pennsylvania House and Senate are GOP-controlled. Wolf is a first-term Democrat.

House Republicans in July rejected $570 million in new spending that includes many of those options, backed by both Wolf and the GOP Senate. Other options, including additional taxes, bond and internal fund transfers remain.

Talks are expected to continue this week, but the House isn't scheduled to return to session until Oct. 16.

"It appears it's going to be a productive week," Bizzarro said.

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