You decide: no casinos or BPT cuts?

Our friends over at Old Philly Politics A.K.A. The Public Record have a pretty interesting editorial in this week's paper. The crux of it is this:

In a campaign that proved wildly popular with the citizenry, Mike Nutter proposed to spend more on police, health programs, arts programs, schools and Community College. He is opening up new offices in City Hall as fast as desks can be delivered – for business, culture, public relations, transportation, zoning and housing, to name but a few.

At the same time, Nutter is determined to keep cutting the City’s destructive business and wage taxes. Great! In the long run, a healthier business environment will pump revenues in a healthier way.

In the short term, however, it looks like we’re walking into a recession. That can wreak havoc with the Mayor’s best-laid plans. If a general economic downturn affects our region, a wide range of business and wage taxes will drop.

The real-estate market is cooling off at the same time. This will lead to lower earnings from the transfer tax.

The city cannot afford, in 2008, to turn away any longer from the immediate economic benefits of casino construction.

I think slots casinos are one of the worst ideas for economic development proposed for this city in a long time (right up there with raising Black Bottom for Penn in the 50's, "slum clearance" on South Street via the Crosstown Expressway, stadiums and convention centers, etc. And could only be made worse by adding tables games to the mix). I am very happy they have still not been built.

However, this editorial (and the front-page story of the Public Record) make it clear that pro-casino forces are getting antsy.

And positioning casino revenue as a way to fund BPT tax cuts is very, very interesting to me.

I am curious to know who is pushing this idea behind the scenes and how much traction it will gain. It's certainly an argument that could put a lot of us in a weird place, i.e. united.

How about both?

I agree that casinos are not necessarily sound social policy. Act 71, however, has survived numerous constitutional challenges (including one I worked on until saviors Irv and John came in to prosecute it) and is likely not going anywhere anytime soon.

Casino revenue has always been crucial to a reduction in the wage and property taxes of our citizens, which is one reason why so many folks want casinos. Also, because while the permanant (non-construction) jobs aren't great, they are jobs--something this city sorely needs.

Let's not even discuss the scores of construction work that will occur.

The most disasterous affects of casinos are not in its societal bad, but for the homeowners and communities where these casinos are presently to be located. Already overburdened with traffic, congestion and development, some of these communities are being asked to host a casino and the many thousands of cars, pedestrians and visitors per day. That is unjust. In fact, it is unjust to hoist a casino in any community without, at the very least, consent.

The benefits of casinos for the construction industry (of which I am a part of), the communities who want them moved (of which I am a part of), for those who want to pay a smaller wage tax (which I certainly wouldn't turn down), for those who want the $10-$15 an hour jobs and everyone else in this city can be met with one simple word: RE-SITING.

Re-siting to more appropriate locations is a victory for everyone.

Forget the issue of table games and prohibiting them. Work with the 24 aligned civic groups to move these casinos to better places.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

Relocating Casinos

I am against the casinos for three main reasons; they have a high negative social cost and associated governmental costs in terms of additional services they will necessitate; they will largely be a shifting of recreational and discretionary spending dollars from within the region (e.g. fewer trips to the movies, less meals out in restaurants); and they represent a failure of government to raise money in an honest way, such as increased taxes or higher user fees. That being said, the argument of relocating casinos to better sites strikes me as being somewhat specious. While the Delaware Avenue locations are problematic from land use and transportation perspectives, any other potential locations in Philadelphia are going to have various problems associated with their locations, and any other potential locations are also going to face NIMBYism arguments from the local community. Even if we ignored the practicality of changing the casino sites at this late hour, if we picked a site in a largely desolate area (or at least one without a lot of residents) for a casino, say by the airport, at the Navy Yard, or in a remote part of Fairmount Park, there would be opposition from neighbors of the nearest and nearby communities and from other people, say business people in the case of the Navy Yard or airport, that would be impacted by the transportation and other ramifications of casinos in those locations.

On a somewhat different note, years ago, somewhat in jest, I offered up an out of the box location for casinos, having the "casinos" be on SEPTA's regional rail (which ironically is largely comprised of railroad cars, which are boxes, but I digress). You have a wealthy demographic in terms of regional rail users and most of the infrastructure in place (trains). There would be no near neighbors in that the trains would be moving when the gaming took place. SEPTA as the house could get a cut of the gaming revenue. There could be gaming and non-gaming rail cars. The technology exists to have seat back video slots with payment and wins paid by and to a debit or credit card (the pending new SEPTA fare card could even be used for this purpose with rewards given to gamers in terms of free rides on SEPTA). To clarify, this paragraph is out of the box thinking.

Specious???

The cold reality is that, regardless of what we think about the social costs of gaming, Philadelphia in 10 years is more likely to have a casino than not.

As a result, Philadelphians must make a choice, will we allow the casinos sites that were chosen with little community input, that had no zoning review similar to other large projects and which stems port development at it roots--or do we want to reopen the process and choose sites based on actual study and review? My decision, along with that of the majority of civic associations from South Philadelphia through Fishtown has consistently been the latter.

Concerns re the siting of casinos are legion. They fail to take into account road and sewage construction planned for the next 20 years. They fail to address the slightest concerns regarding traffic planning, water discharge and other enviromental issues. Further, there is presently no public safety plan offered by the operators of either casino related to their siting on a costal emergency route.

These are questions we have been asking since before the Gaming Board decision and adjudication. You describe the call to re-site as being at the late hour. The call against sites occurred prior to December 20, 2006. The call to re-site started on December 21, 2006. Our elected officials, including Councilman DiCicco, Rep. O'Brien and Sen. Fumo have led, even after some times of disagreement, the movement to re-site.

Sometimes reality and idealism require compromise. In this case, a review of casino locations and movement to the airport, navy yard, or in one of the many old industrial sites with more separation from communities is a fine compromise for me and the vast majority of the folks I've been working with for a long time now. Over 8 months ago, Councilman DiCicco offered the governor more acceptable sites. Sites that would remain commercially viable, be close to transport and would have greater separations from communities. The Governor rejected that list without study.

If you consider the re-siting argument late, you should note the anti-gaming position in Philadelphia was no where to be found in July 2004 when Act 71 became law. That too was founded in 2006.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

ok, but..

They are still not here Gaetano. I don't know who to credit--CFP or the neighborhood groups or what--but they are not here and that is awesome.

But I didn't write my post to debate casinos' merits. My point is more about how pro-casino folks are basically making it sound like we can't have BPT cuts without raking in dough from casinos.

It is an odd positioning, and an interesting one. And I wonder who is really behind it.

The folks who want casinos

The folks who want casinos and/or stand the most to benefit from them being built tomorrow instead of six months or a year from tomorrow. Think about who those people are as it is not appropriate for me to name names.

As for why there are still two holes in the ground, all groups deserve credit. It is time to move the issue along and resolve the siting situation. Folks, the communities need help. It is as simple as that. The pro-gaming today interests are powerful ones and we're relying solely on volunteers, some of whom have had their business suffer due to the time they've spent protecting their homes.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

A Quagmire of Decline

The pro-casino forces, of course, have been connecting their issues to everything from creating more jobs (untrue), decreasing property tax (short-term true but long-term untrue), bringing in tourists (definitely untrue), and revitalizing the riverfront (shockingly untrue).

What's most bold is that editorial's closing line: "[not building casinos today] risks squandering the momentum of change and slipping back into another holding pattern or worse, another quagmire of decline." The author both supports Nutter and, then, accuses his policy of reviewing casino's location and economic benefits as a possible example of quagmire of decline.

The "build them now" folks are getting ansy. If you missed this, check out this article in Plan Philly where they point out that SugarHouse is nervous about buying their land (for $70 million) out of fear they might not be able to build on it.

http://www.planphilly.com/node/2912

SugarHouse and Foxwoods have upped their spending on local advertising campaigns and aggressive lobbying. They can keep trying to connect their greed with other things; but it's always been about a group of well-connected rich guys trying to find a new way for them to make money.

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