Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell Thursday warned that he would lay off 1,000 state employees to help balance the current budget unless the legislature passes a table games bill by Jan. 8.
The gaming bill would allow race tracks and slot casinos to offer roulette, blackjack, and poker, an initiative expected to generate $250 million of needed revenue for the state's fiscal 2010 budget. The fiscal year began July 1.
The House Thursday opted to send the table games bill to conference committee instead of concurring on a Senate amendment that the upper chamber attached to the measure Wednesday evening. Approving the amendment would have sent the gaming bill to Rendell's desk.
Bob Caton, spokesman for House Speaker Keith McCall, said House members need more time to analyze the Senate's changes.
"The Senate — knowing the reality of the situation — chose to make substantive changes," Caton wrote in an e-mail. "Those changes have created a great deal of concern with House members and they are reluctant to rubber-stamp those changes."
The governor said he would sign off on spending bills for state universities and colleges and other "non-preferred appropriations" that have been waiting since July 1 for state aid. Earlier, Rendell said he would not approve funding for higher education, museums, and other such institutions until he received the table games initiative from the legislature.
The legislature will reconvene on Jan. 5.
"Unfortunately time is running short, and unless I receive legislation on my desk that I can sign by Jan. 8, I will be forced to place an additional $250 million into budgetary reserve," Rendell said in a prepared statement.
"Although I will attempt to make as much of those cuts from discretionary lines as possible, there is no way that I can reach that figure solely by doing so. The majority of cuts will have to come from general government operations and that will necessitate a minimum of an additional 1,000 furloughs," he said. "I know that none of us want that and the people of Pennsylvania would suffer for it, so it is imperative that this be resolved by Jan. 8."