HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania is going to borrow against its Tobacco Settlement Fund to fill in last year's deficit and finish this year's budget The Wolf administration confirmed Tuesday that it will tap into the stream of money states have received from tobacco companies since the 1990s. The borrowing will give the commonwealth money to balance its books up front, and will then be paid back over several decades. The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the plan Tuesday. However, Budget Secretary Randy Albright noted that it's not finalized yet. "The resolution today simply allows staff at the CFA to put together a professional team, and go out and ascertain in the market what the most cost-effective financing plan should be," Albright said.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- After months of deliberation, state House Speaker Mike Turzai has announced he is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor. The Pittsburgh-area lawmaker is now the fourth GOP challenger to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who's seeking a second term. The field also includes conservative Republican state Senator Scott Wagner, lawyer Laura Ellsworth, and former health care systems consultant Paul Mango. Turzai has served in the House since 2001, and became speaker two years ago. He's widely known as one of the legislature's biggest spending opponents, and has frequently tangled with Wolf--and even other Republicans--over raising taxes to balance state budgets. Lately, one of his biggest causes has been fending off a severance tax on natural gas drillers.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) - Several activists were arrested Monday while blocking a hallway during a rally at the state Capitol. Many had just finished a three-day walk from Lancaster to Harrisburg--the second one they've done this year. The group's goal is to call attention to stalled bills that would ban gifts to lawmakers and seek to make the redistricting process less partisan. The walk to the Capitol was 36 miles, and temperatures fell below freezing at times. But when the March on Harrisburg group reached the Capitol, their energy was high Several members dressed in the red stripes of children's book character Where's Waldo--a dig at House members, who had canceled their regular session day for an informal nonvoting session. Rachel Brewer, of national anti-corruption group Represent.US, called out Republican House State Government Committee Chair Daryl Metcalfe in particular.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- State Senator Scott Wagner is taking an unorthodox step in his campaign for governor. The conservative York County Republican has named a running mate—real estate developer and political outsider Jeff Bartos. In some ways, the decision is only symbolic. Pennsylvania’s primary system requires candidates for lieutenant governor to campaign separately from gubernatorial hopefuls. The winners from each party are automatically paired together. Sometimes that leads to odd couplings, like current Governor Tom Wolf and Lieutenant Mike Stack, who are known to have a strained relationship.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A Moody's credit rating agency report shows Pennsylvania's recent gambling expansion may not be that great for casinos, and could run the risk of making the commonwealth less attractive to the industry. The expansion will allow up to 10 new mini casinos to start operating, as well as video gambling terminals in truck stops. Moody's analyst Peggy Holloway said the moves could siphon revenue from existing casinos. "Based on some commentary from the operators, they're not that happy with the way the bill was set up," she said. A spokesman for the Wolf administration noted, lawmakers tried to address concerns by requiring new casinos to be a certain distance from the current ones, and giving existing operators first dibs on licenses. But Holloway said even with safeguards, she's worried there won't be enough business to go around.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Along with electing a number of judges Tuesday night, Pennsylvania voters agreed to a ballot measure that will amend the constitution to let municipalities stop charging property taxes. It's a step forward in an ongoing fight to lower the commonwealth's controversial, high property tax rates. But it's not likely to have a practical impact anytime soon. Under previous constitutional language, local governments could only exempt up to 50 percent of their median home value from property taxes. Now, they can technically exempt all homeowners.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Tuesday night saw some big wins for Democrats around the country--but Pennsylvania's elections were mostly lower-profile, and ended with more of a political mixed bag. Onlookers in the commonwealth say they're already ahead looking to 2018. The commonwealth's top-of-the-ticket race was for a term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, between Republican interim justice Sallie Mundy and Democratic family court judge Dwayne Woodruff, who's also a former Pittsburgh Steeler. Mundy, who outstripped Woodruff in fundraising and endorsements, won the seat. Alex Reber, a Dauphin County Democratic official who spent election night at a Harrisburg watch party, said that doesn't necessarily signify anything about Democrats' prospects in future state elections. "Sallie Mundie was endorsed by a lot of unions, so when they're backing the Republican--I don't think that's a good test," he said.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) - Pennsylvania is starting the lengthy process of making far-reaching expansions to its gambling industry. Among the law's major provisions are legalization of video gaming terminals--or VGTs--in truck stops, and licensing of 10 new miniature casinos. Counties can opt not to allow VGTs, and municipalities can do the same for mini-casinos. State Gaming Control Board Spokesman Doug Harbach said those moves have to happen by December 29 and 31, respectively, but they haven't heard from anyone yet. "These government bodies will be working with their solicitors to look at the language and then making some decisions in the near future," he predicted. The number of counties and municipalities that opt out of the expansion will help determine how much revenue the state gets.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The Republican sponsored tax code overhaul in Congress faces an uncertain path, and will likely see some major changes as it makes its way toward legalization. But nevertheless, small business owners and advocates in Pennsylvania are trying to figure out how its current iteration would affect them and some have mixed feelings. The more than 400-page bill of sweeping tax code changes has been touted as "pro-business" by its House GOP authors and the Trump administration. And it would indeed slash the corporate tax rate by 15 percent. Smaller business owners would also get a lower rate on some of their income, but there are limits to who would benefit. That's one reason the National Federation of Independent Business won't back the plan.
HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Four months into the fiscal year, Pennsylvania's revenues are more-or-less on target. A new report from the state Independent Fiscal Office shows collections are about $10 million dollars below estimates--a figure IFO Director Matthew Knittel said is leaps and bounds better than this time last year, when state income lagged by more than 20 times that much. The commonwealth ended last fiscal year nearly $1.5 billion below projections--a shortfall that contributed to lawmakers' painful, protracted budget battle. However, Knittel said the fact that revenues look better this year doesn't mean there's not still potential for instability--especially if the Trump administration doesn't overhaul the federal tax code as promised. "We think if federal tax reform does not happen...then we would lower our revenue estimate for this year," he said. The uncertainty stems from individuals and businesses delaying reporting some of their income in hopes of getting a tax cut later.