Twenty Percent Tax on Games of Chance May Be Spending Plan's Toughest Sell

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- Volunteer fire companies and social clubs, called the "heart and soul" of Western Pennsylvania communities, would face a 20 percent tax on the profits of punch boards, raffles and other small games of chance under a budget agreement that could be voted on by the Legislature later this week.

It could prove to be one of the most controversial items in the $27.9 billion budget for Western Pennsylvania lawmakers.

"Of all places to raise revenue, they've had setbacks from the smoking ban and the opening of casinos. We're having a tough time keeping the fire departments going," said Rep. Nick Kotik of Coraopolis, leader of the so-called Blue Dog caucus, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats from the western part of the state. "It's a tough pill to swallow."

Kotik held out the possibility that some Western Pennsylvania Democrats won't vote for the budget because of it.

Chuck Schubert, a member of McKees Rocks Elks No. 1263, said enough is enough. The small amount of money raised by the club through games of chance isn't going to help close the budget hole.

"We ought to pay those people (lawmakers) to stay home. We have enough laws and enough taxes," Schubert said.

Details on the tax, like the overall budget agreement, are vague. Gov. Ed Rendell said he and legislative leaders were holding back information until all members can be informed. "I'm only getting bits and pieces," Kotik said.

According to Senate Republican lawyer Andrew Crompton: The new 20 percent tax will be levied on the profits of small games of chance, which include punch boards, so-called pull tabs and raffle tickets. …