HARRISBURG - Three days after announcing plans to have the state-run Lottery implement a new-style of barbased virtual sports betting, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that he’s also signed into law a broad expansion of gambling that passed the state Legislature last week.
Still, in comments to the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg, Wolf called on the Legislature to pass a new tax on gas drilling.
The gaming bill legalizes gambling in mini-casinos operated by the companies already operating casinos in the state while allowing online gambling, fantasy sports league betting, and video gaming terminals in truck stops and airports.
The gaming bill is projected by House legislative staffto provide the state with $238 million this year. The new sports-themed games Wolf has called on the Lottery to offer, would provide about $75 million for the Lottery, according to estimates provided by the governor’s office. The Lottery funding supports programs for senior citizens.
Wolf said the Legislature’s repeated failure to enact a new tax on drilling on top of the impact fee already collected is an example of how special interests take precedence over the needs of everyday Pennsylvanians at the Capitol. A drilling tax was included in a budgetbalancing plan passed by the state Senate in July, but the state House leadership has declined to allow a floor vote on a drilling tax.
“There is no greater example of Harrisburg dysfunction than the House Republicans’ refusal to vote on a severance tax,” Wolf said.
He added that an analysis by the Independent Fiscal Office suggested that 80 percent of the revenue collected by the state drilling the drilling tax would come out of the wallets of people outsidePennsylvania.
Wolf, whose campaign for governor was largely driven by a theme of taxing the gas industry to fund the state’s schools, added that there are political factors at play, as well.
“They’d rather see me fail than Pennsylvania win,” Wolf said Monday. The governor is up for re-election next year.
State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder County, pointed to Wolf’s original campaign Monday.
“When he ran for governor, he told everyone that he wanted to spend money and he wanted to raise taxes to do it,” Keller said. “When does it stop with this guy?”
The drilling tax may remain as a priority for the governor after the other budget issues
have been resolved because the state will still need money moving forward, said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County.
The plan approved by the Legislature to balance the budget leans heavily on borrowing and shifting of funds out of special reserve accounts into the general fund, he said.
The drilling tax might be needed “if we're going to get our house in order” moving forward, Longietti said.
Longietti said there’s little reason to believe that the tax would deter the growth of the drilling industry in Pennsylvania, as long as the tax rate doesn’t exceed that charged in neighboring states.
Wolf also left up the air the question of whether he will double-dip in borrowing to balance the budget.
Wolf had proposed having the Liquor Control Board borrow $1.2 billion for the state. A proposal included in the newlyapproved budget plan would borrow $1.5 billion that would be repaid with the state’s annual payment from a settlement with the tobacco industry.
“I would still move ahead” with the liquor system borrowing plan, despite the alternative plan, Wolf said Monday.
Afterward, Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott said that while the governor plans to move forward with both processes, there’s been no decision made about whether to actually borrow from both sources.