Pa. lawmakers eye final votes on tax package

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday as they prepared to take what leaders hoped would be final votes on an election-year tax increase necessary to balance the state’s deficit-riddled budget.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

House and Senate votes were expected on a $1.3 billion revenue package that was still under wraps Wednesday morning after lawmakers worked into Tuesday night to settle its final details.

The mid-summer scramble to wrap up the Legislature’s business until the fall comes after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf allowed a $31 billion spending bill to become law at midnight Monday. However, state government lacks the tax collections to sustain the plan for the entire fiscal year, prompting warnings of a bond downgrade and a lawsuit over the spending legislation’s legality.

Meanwhile, nearly $600 million in aid to Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Lincoln and Penn remain held up in the House.

The tax package revolves around a $1 per-pack tax increase on cigarettes, to $2.60 per pack, and an extension of the state’s 6 percent sales tax to digital downloads of music, videos, books and apps.

The grab-bag legislation also would include higher taxes on banks and an extension of wholesale taxes to smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

Legislation that would make Pennsylvania the fourth state to legalize casino-style gambling on the internet will wait until the fall, but be counted on to provide $100 million for the state treasury, mostly from lucrative one-time license fees.

At times Tuesday, attention focused on closed-door wrangling over Republican efforts to create more avenues for charter school expansions, particularly in the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District. That legislation stalled, amid opposition by Wolf and a top Philadelphia Democrat, Sen. Vincent Hughes.