Wolf will allow Pa. budget to stand

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — The gridlocked Pennsylvania Legislature remained unable to explain Sunday how it would pay for a roughly $31 billion spending bill it had already approved, although Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he would not stop it from becoming law.

Wolf made the revelation during a Sunday evening Capitol news conference, just 30 hours before his midnight Monday deadline to act on the spending bill that lawmakers passed June 30.

Wolf said he would let the spending bill become law without his signature, even if the Republican-controlled Legislature does not produce an acceptable revenue package to fund it.

Wolf’s move

prompted head scratching in the Capitol as to whether the move was constitutional or what effect, if any, it could ultimately have on programs should lawmakers fail to fund a budget most of them voted for.

Revenue: Closed-door revenue discussions revolve around a

$1.3 billion package that relies heavily on a $1 per-pack cigarette tax increase, to $2.60 per pack, and an expansion of casino-style gambling that would make Pennsylvania the fourth state to legalize internet gambling.

Wolf’s move also took the pressure off lawmakers to act before midnight Monday, and seemed sure to cement Wolf’s second budget as the second to become law without his signature.

The struggle over how to shore up Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances has left it as the only state government without an enacted budget for part or all of the new 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

This latest stalemate has emerged barely three months after Wolf and the Legislature ended a record-breaking stalemate in the just-ended fiscal year.

House: On Sunday night, lawmakers and legislative staff said it looked increasingly doubtful that a revenue package would make it to the governor’s desk Monday. A brief House session started and ended without action on major budget legislation.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said negotiators still have disagreements over some elements of a $1.3 billion revenue package.

The money is necessary to help pay for the spending bill on Wolf’s desk, plus another nearly $600 million in aid to Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Lincoln and Penn that remains in limbo in the House, budget negotiators say.

Legalizing a gambling expansion to the internet could generate lucrative license fees right away, lawmakers say. However, the House and Senate do not see eye to eye on the sprawling gambling legislation, and no such bill has reached Wolf’s desk, much less passed the Senate.

The revenue package also could extend a 40 percent wholesale tax to sales of larger cigars, loose tobacco, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

Pennsylvania’s $1.60 per pack tax on cigarettes is tied for the nation’s 23rd highest with Ohio and Delaware, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Increasing it by $1 to $2.60 would make it the nation’s 10th highest cigarette tax.