Slots Law Giveth, Table Games Law Taketh Away

The above refers to the subsidy for building the long-elusive convention center hotel. Back in 1997 when the center plans were being drawn up many were convinced that it would have tremendous spin-off effects, including the construction of adjacent hotels to serve the center. That never came to pass, so in 2004 when the slots law was passed there was a set-aside of $44 million for "retirement of indebtedness and financing of a hotel or convention center in a City of the Second Class…"

There have been no takers on building the hotel, and the one interested development outfit wanted to build 300 rooms, not the 500 sought by the visitors’ bureau. So members of the County’s legislative delegation seem ready to move the subsidy for other purposes as debate over the table games continues. As described in a news article, the money intended for the hotel would instead go for "economic development, job training, infrastructure development, community development, public safety and other projects ‘in the public interest’ in Allegheny County."

Here are the problems with goal of using the money for some other purpose: if the language is codified as described above it is overly broad and basically gives the County a blank check to use the money as it sees fit, possibly injecting it into its general fund and continuing the trend of the County using gaming money and one-time infusions of cash to meet its budgetary needs.

Recall too that the 2004 slots law already provides $6.6 million per year for a "community infrastructure development fund"-money that should be sufficient to meet the County’s needs, especially in light of the additional Federal and state monies that aid infrastructure.

And it is not like the door is completely closed on getting the hotel a subsidy if a deal eventually materializes. The article notes that the money will be held in a restricted account by the state, able to be accessed by a developer if there is a deal and the funds have not been exhausted. But even if it were to be spent, is there anyone who honestly believes that the state and County would not use one of the multitude of its economic development incentive programs to subsidize the hotel at some future date?