Gov. Rendell yesterday called it "simply unacceptable" for the General Assembly to be taking so long to work out the table-games legislation needed to close the budget gap.
At a news conference here, the governor warned that inaction would result in further delays in payments to hospitals and state-related colleges, as well as postponing economic development projects.
The "big holdup," Rendell said, was how much to tax casinos for revenues on table games.
Rendell said he would not accept anything less than a 16 percent tax, plus a licensing fee of $15 million. He said that would add $200 million the first year and $120 million after that.
A House version of a table-games bill called for a 34 percent tax, while a Senate bill has a 12 percent tax, plus an additional 2 percent fee to go directly to local municipalities with casinos.
Rendell said tax revenue from table games is essential to the state's $27.8 billion budget.
But he said the legislative schedule reflects the "cavalier attitude" of leaders toward the problem. The House does not plan to return to session until Nov. 9, while the Senate will not reconvene until Nov. 16.
"There's never been a sense of urgency that I believe is necessary," Rendell said.
Rendell said that based on the current legislative calendar, it could take at least 18 more days before the House and Senate produce bills for the governor to sign. He demanded that leaders from the House and Senate conduct nonstop "face-to-face meetings" to deliver a bill for him to sign by Nov. 9.
"Because the differences are so narrow, it seems to me this could have been resolved last week," Rendell said.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) agreed that the continued delay was "mystifying."
Pileggi noted in a letter to Rendell yesterday that House leaders "pulled the plug" on a meeting with the governor that had been scheduled for Oct. 20.
Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Pileggi, said Senate leaders recognize that the eventual tax rate "is an area where compromise is necessary, and think it should be able to get worked out quickly."
House leaders, meanwhile, said the proposed legislation is complex, requiring close attention to detail.
"Moving fast and ending up with a bad bill that doesn't raise enough revenue is much worse than taking our time and crafting a bill that does everything right," said Bob Caton, a spokesman for Speaker Keith R. McCall (D., Carbon).
In a joint statement, McCall and Majority Leader Todd A. Eachus (D., Luzerne) said that when the House returns to session on Nov. 9, "we hope to have an agreement in place as soon as possible."
"If we wanted to pass this bill immediately, we could simply have allowed the casinos to write the bill for us," they said. "But our duty to the taxpayers absolutely requires us to make sure the people get the most benefit while we simultaneously enhance our thriving gaming industry."
State Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks) said the General Assembly was rushed in 2004 to pass legislation to create a gaming industry and has been trying ever since to fix it.
"There were many problems with that law," Clymer said.
Both the House and Senate are working on changes. Clymer said legislators needed to be deliberative in deciding how to add table games such as roulette, blackjack and poker.
As lawmakers debate table games, the state has held up $730 million in payments to the state-related universities - Temple, Pennsylvania State, Pittsburgh and Lincoln - as well as museums and hospitals.
The timing of the release of those funds is contingent on securing funding from table games.