Rivers Money Dries Up

"PITG’s commitment to the community included a $1 million contribution per year for three years to a neighborhood redevelopment project in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a $7.5 million contribution per year for 30 years toward the funding of a new arena in Pittsburgh and a $1 million per year contribution for three years to the Northside Leadership Conference"-Adjudication of the Gaming Control Board, 2008.

We won’t know if the Rivers Casino lived up to its obligation for the hockey arena until the Penguins’ star center is the ripe old age of 53, but the time is up on the three year community redevelopment agreements, and it does not look like the casino is looking to extend what was agreed to by the original winner of the slots license. It noted in a prepared statement that "Rivers will continue supporting Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods through its ongoing community outreach programs." It has met its commitment, and there have been projects undertaken with the money from the agreement, and it should not be expected to do more.

That’s not going to stop the beneficiaries of the agreement from making the case for more and, one could argue, they are free to make an appeal to the casino the same way they would the state, the Federal government, the URA, the County Redevelopment Authority, etc. that their good and noble work needs to continue. One official stated "What they said is not a surprise. That doesn’t mean to our minds that that’s the end of the conversation. That doesn’t preclude future plans. So we’re happy to talk to them about the future". But it is fair to ask if community groups could become addicted to gaming money-if so, do we need to start "Redevelopers Anonymous?"

Institutional Amnesia

The surest sign of neurotic behavior is the constant and repetitive use of arguments that have been thoroughly debunked. Now comes City Council’s budget director telling Council that visitors, commuters and non-profit realestate are not paying enough to the City.

The director said "we’re like an amusement park that only charges the people that live there…we’re not charging the people that come and visit." Obviously the director forgets that non-City taxpayers funded two new stadiums and a convention centerandgaming revenue from around the state underwrote construction ofthe hockey arena. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, where the City’s gratitude for that support?

Guess what? All these structures are property tax exempt. And theCity receives virtually all the economic benefits these facilitiesspin off. Parking, restaurants, bars, hotel room nights, retail sales,etc.

Then there is the amusement taxand non-resident sports tax. The director suggested asking the state to allow the City to raise the amusement tax. But that tax was cut in half from 10 to 5 percent in 1995 asrequired by the Regional Asset Tax law. In exchange for huge amountsof support for City cultural, entertainment and education organizationsthe City was previously funding, the City lost half the amusement tax-a small price relative to the RAD benefits. Any gratitude for all thetax dollars pouring into Pittsburgh from the rest of the County? Not aword.

RAD was touted as the City’s financial savior; ditto the newstadiums and convention center. The lack of prudent spending never enters into the cloudedmental processes of elected officials or those who work for them.

Addicts have to admit they have problem if they ever hope to getwell. No such admission has been forthcoming. And so it goes.