Four bad public policies

Four bad public policies

The Pennsylvania Legislature, in a span of less than 24 hours, last week adopted legislation that, among other moves designed to close a $2.2 billion budget gap, allows for a massive expansion of state-sanctioned gambling.


The overall measure weighed in at 939 pages, reports have it, with more than half of those pages – 470 – dealing with gambling expansion. That’s just shy of the thickness of a packet of copy paper, if you’re looking for a visual.


One wonders if those voting for this legislation took the time to read and fully understand the requirements and impacts of the bill.


Yes, the companion revenue plan for the already-passed spending plan was months overdue. But it’s incredibly bad public policy to fast-track such a massive document.
The optics are horrendous. But the results of such a lightly vetted measure could be even worse.


The same state Senate has adopted a House measure that authorizes the borrowing of $1.5 billion from future tobacco settlement income. As The Associated Press reported, “(W)ith interest, payback likely would cost more than $2 billion over 20 years.”


Borrowing money to pay operating costs is one of the worst public policies in which a government can engage. Indebting future generations to mask spendthrift ways certainly is no virtue.


A Post-Gazette editorial notes that Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis “said it isn’t her intent to keep airline incentives a secret going forward.”


But, she said, in the case of keeping hush-hush a top-secret formula that gives Qatar Airways Cargo what has been described only as a “significant” monetary incentive, well, the P-G noted: “She isn’t ready to share details yet. In time, she said, she knows they’ll come out in one way or another.”


Cassotis fears disclosure of her super-secret recipe for granting corporate wealthfare might put Pittsburgh International Airport at a competitive disadvantage. Good grief.


Once again, the county Airport Authority is a public agency. Those who head it have no warrant to write their own rules on transparency. The only “disadvantage” here is to the public.


The Pittsburgh Penguins now have until Nov. 9 to buy the first parcel of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site for which it was handed development rights in a sweetheart deal.


As the Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette report, it’s the second extension granted in as many weeks (in a two-year extension journey) by the city Urban Redevelopment Authority and the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority.


That, reportedly, so, supposedly, a better, more taxpayer-friendly deal can be negotiated involving $15 million in tax credits also given to the Penguins in the sweetheart deal. The NHL franchise has been able to “pay” for the extensions by drawing down on that credit kitty.


Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto derisively notes the Pens could use the multimillion-dollar credit, negotiated by a prior administration, to buy the Hill District property. He also says the team is seeking more public money.


If the Penguins can’t meet next week’s deadline to end all deadlines, ahem, it will be forced to forfeit a 2.1-acre parcel of its choice.


While one member of each respective authority voted against the latest extension – claiming its past time for the Pens to build or get off the proverbial pot and convey (Sell? Give?) development rights to someone else – the Penguins claim they already have invested millions in the site and remind that they have given more millions to local charitable projects.


While the charitable contributions certainly are laudable, the propriety of using them as some sort of quid pro quo is most dubious.


The simple fact of the matter is that not only should the team not have been handed development rights, it certainly should not have been given tax credits to boot that, perversely, incentivize delay. Think parking revenues that the franchise collects from the undeveloped property.


Peduto is threatening that government “will start to develop the property on (its) own.” But that could double-down on this public policy mistake.


Had parcels in this 28-acre (or more than 1.2 million-square-foot) site been put up for sale to the highest private bidders, not only would redevelopment of the old Civic Arena site be well underway and/or partially completed, the estimated $50 million in taxpayers’ public infrastructure development there (think roads, think sewers) would be on the road to being offset.


Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (