As a small-business owner who is very familiar with managing overhead and revenue and paying my bills, the ongoing budget debacle in Harrisburg is difficult to fathom.
It has been roughly two months since lawmakers passed a $32 billion budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. But lawmakers did not pass a single bill to actually pay for that budget.
They have essentially made a commitment to spend a lot of our money but cannot agree on how to raise that money. Right now, our state is tapping a line of credit to pay ordinary expenses.
I can’t quite figure how I’d run my business like that — other than into the ground — because my monthly planning includes figuring out expenses and revenue. It’s how I am able to keep the lights on and my vendors paid.
Still, summer is coming to an end, kids are back to school, but the House and Senate are not any closer to agreement on a funding plan than they were in June.
It is time for lawmakers to get back to work and enact a full budget that funds core programs and protects Pennsylvania jobs — without raising taxes on Pennsylvania families. Any plan must include legalization of video gaming terminals for local tavern owners and our patrons.
As the president of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, I represent roughly 2,500 small businesses in this state, including many in Allegheny County and surrounding counties.
These machines could generate $400 million in annual revenue for the state. And this legislation would create $140 million for local governments as part of a local share partnership. Allegheny County alone would receive an estimated $400,000 from this local share.
The math makes sense for every taxpayer: Absent VGTs, lawmakers will be forced to raise taxes on all Pennsylvania families. For tavern owners, VGTs are critical to our ability to remain in business.
Pittsburgh is a city of great neighborhoods, and in every single one of them, you’ll find local taverns owned by your neighbors. If lawmakers fail to step up and enact VGTs, many of these taverns will be forced out of business.
Last year, lawmakers passed a new law — Act 39 — that allows chain groceries, breweries and big box stores to get licenses to sell beer-to-go.
These changes to the law have had a tremendous impact on our bottom line, and we need new tools to compete successfully against the huge corporate chains that now control many of our licenses. We surveyed our members, and some have seen revenue from beer-to-go drop by 50 percent. Many of our members have already begun to remove their six-pack coolers because sales have dropped so much.
In addition to the lost revenue, our members have paid a steep price for their licenses and, each year, pay a fee for the privilege to operate in Pennsylvania. We have no problem paying our fair share, but when the state changes the rules in the middle of the game and devalues our license in the process, we believe we deserve an opportunity to compete with some new tools. VGTs would give us that opportunity.
The state House has passed this bill. Unfortunately, the Senate has balked. Instead, the Senate approved a revenue plan that raises phone and utility taxes on all Pennsylvanians. To make matters worse, the Senate is leaning toward approving more casino licenses for the state to fund the budget.
Rather than support small businesses and all 67 county governments, the Senate plan would provide out-of-state billionaire casino operators the inside track on another round of new licenses in Pennsylvania.
VGTs would allow tavern owners to provide an additional service and recoup at least some of the losses from beer-to-go coolers. It would generate hundreds of millions in new revenue for the state without raising taxes on every household in Pennsylvania.
There is simply no good reason why the state Senate cannot return to Harrisburg, approve this legislation and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf.