GOP AMENDMENTS IMPERIL SLOTS BILL, TAX RELIEF
HARRISBURG, November 19, 2004 – Senate Republicans have jeopardized the enactment of legislation that would completely bar public officials from owning a gambling operation by adding amendments to the bill that may prove unacceptable to the House of Representatives and the Governor.
Republicans early today in the Rules Committee changed SB 1209 to eliminate the requirement in the state gaming law (Act 71) that slot machine manufacturers sell their products through Pennsylvania-based distributor companies. Senate Republicans had eliminated that requirement when they originally passed SB 1209 in October, but the House of Representatives amended the bill earlier this week to retain the Pennsylvania distributor provision.
By changing the legislation back again, Republican Senators have created a strong possibility that the House may not approve the bill, or that it would face a gubernatorial veto if it does pass the House.
"The distributorship requirement is intended to create business opportunities and jobs for Pennsylvanians," said state Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia.) "Removing it helps no one except out-of-state slot machine manufacturers. The House of Representatives and the Governor both understand that. Senate Republicans should realize that their insistence on eliminating that provision threatens to prevent SB 1209 from ever becoming law."
One provision of SB 1209 that enjoys broad bipartisan support would prevent public officials from owning any direct financial interest in a slot operation. Act 71, as originally enacted, restricts them to owning no more than one percent.
Other provisions of SB 1209, however, could delay or reduce the property and wage tax relief funded by gambling revenue.
"Parts of this bill amount to a Republican strategy for delaying tax cuts, probably beyond 2006 when Governor Rendell runs for re-election," Fumo said. "Many of these provisions seem to be nothing more than procedural roadblocks that, with their cumulative effect, will slow down the approval and operation of slot facilities."
Among the delaying tactics are:
Applying the financial interest prohibition to non-supervisory employees of the Gaming Board, such as secretaries, clerks, assistants, and custodial workers;
Requiring a background investigation of every employee or contract employee of the Board, down to the level of secretaries, clerks, assistants, and custodial workers;
Applying the Commonwealth Procurement Code to the Board, thus forcing it to go through a lengthy competitive bidding process for ordinary start-up tasks. The bill originally put a three-year moratorium on that requirement to allow the Board to get up and running;
Removing the confidentiality of information submitted for background investigations – including information such as social-security numbers, financial information, and other private information that would involve not only the applicants, but family and business associates of the applicant.
Mandating that manufacturer and supplier licenses be renewed every year. It will be practically impossible to go through a license renewal process every year for every manufacturer and supplier. In fact, the New Jersey Assembly recently passed legislation that would extend the renewal period for casino licenses to 5 years.
Mandating that occupational licenses for casino workers are to be renewed each year – for every occupational license. That is a huge number that will be virtually impossible to address. This should be removed, and the Board should be permitted to determine if or how often such licenses should be renewed.
The House added a provision to the bill that could cut into the amount of property tax relief promised by the slots law. The bill now dictates that the slots-funded Property Tax Relief Fund make up for any shortfall from the previous year that may occur in the state Lottery Fund.