Slot machines, tax relief OK'd as part of $23b budget in Pa.
Gambling revenue expected to support increased spending
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Governor Ed Rendell signed into law yesterday a $23 billion spending plan with no tax increase, which lawmakers approved hours earlier, four days after Wednesday's deadline for passing a state budget.
The Senate approved the budget bill unanimously, while the House vote was 193 to 8, after a marathon session that began Saturday evening. The bill increases spending by 4.3 percent.
Also over the weekend, the Legislature passed a pair of bills that will legalize slot-machine gambling to finance $1 billion a year in property-tax reductions for homeowners across the state.
Rendell, a Democrat who had made slots-for-tax-relief the centerpiece of his 2002 election campaign, had insisted on both measures before signing the budget.
The measures proposes slots at seven racetracks, two resorts, and five stand-alone sites. It would authorize as many as 61,000 slot machines.
Action on the bills was delayed for hours Saturday as Rendell's administration and leaders of the Republican legislative majority wrangled behind the scenes over details of the state budget, which should have been in place when the new fiscal year began Thursday.
The official signing came in the governor's reception room of the Capitol. It would increase spending by 4.3 percent, but does not call for a tax increase.
"The big difference [this year] is that there's no need to raise revenues, and when there's no need to raise revenues, it always makes it a little easier," Rendell said.
He called it "a good example of government working for the people."
Rendell plans to sign the gambling and property-tax-reduction bills today.
The slot bill's opponents had predicted it would result into an increase of crime, addiction, divorce, and other social ills. They complained the bill was crafted in secret by a handful of party leaders and lacks safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest among members of the state panel that would oversee slots parlors.
Representative Daryl D. Metcalfe, a Republican, said the legislation was "Machiavellian" and "extremely flawed."
"Our new revenue could easily be zeroed out" by the costs of coping with social problems, he said.
Representative H. William DeWeese, the House minority leader, accused the bill's critics of "demagoguing" in an attempt to kill the measure.
Revenue from the machines, estimated at $1 billion a year, would be used to reduce local property taxes by an average 20 percent.
The bill would make Pennsylvania the 18th state to legalize slot-machine gambling, not counting casinos run by Indian tribes, according to the American Gaming Association.
Proponents said the bill would allow the state to recapture much of the money Pennsylvanians pour into slot machines in neighboring states and help revive the state's horse racing industry.