House vote closes Pennsylvania’s budget gap

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's nearly four-month long wait to balance the budget appears to be over.

The final piece to fund the state's $32.2 billion budget came into place Thursday.

FOX 43 News talked with both House Democrats and Republicans about the vote that essentially brings the budget battle to an end, and members on both sides are breathing a sigh of relief."

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said "well, I'm glad it's over. It certainly wasn't fun and easy, but we have a plan now that will fund the Commonwealth for the rest of this year and into next year."

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said "I think it means we can move on. I think we balance a budget. We took care of the difficulties in last year's deficit, we balance this year, and actually look forward to next year as well."

Expected to bring in more than $200 million dollars in revenue, the House voted 109 to 72 to expand gaming in Pennsylvania as a way to close the budget gap.

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said "it has some VGT (Video Gaming Technology), which helps small business owners, that, it was a bi-partisan product."

"I think finally, we're going to have regulated products and we're going to get tax revenue. It's going to help not just the lottery, or the property tax relief fund, but also the general fund," Reed said.

Gaming isn't the only factor in funding the $2.2 billion budget shortfall. Other revenue sources include borrowing $1.5 billion from the state's tobacco settlement fund.

"Those are monies that are being used, that come from a tobacco settlement done some years ago. It's about $350 million annually. That is outside general fund spending, but those monies are being used to fill that hole," Turzai said.

"The tax online services, and fireworks, those types of things are also part of it, and it should get us through next year," Dermody said.

Talks on gaming, House Bill 271, began around 8:30 Thursday morning.  Within three hours, the wait to balance the budget was over.

"All four caucuses,house and republicans and democrats, and senate, republicans and democrats, came on board with us," Turzai said.

"It's not exactly the way, if we were in charge, we would have done it, but we were happy to have it passed. We try to work together, and we did work together with members on the other side of the aisle to get it done," Dermody said.

"Let's get back focused on jobs, property tax elimination, and tax reform. Over all, I think there are a lot of things we'd like to talk about instead of budgets," Reed said.

While House Democrats and Republicans came together in today's vote to balance the budget, the governor will still have to sign off on the budget's funding once it reaches his desk.