The public should offload the David L., too

The public should offload the David L., too

With all due apologies to Art Linkletter, pols say the darnedest things. Especially when they cast aspersions on other agencies in defense of the aspersion-worthy agencies they oversee.

Witness state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, calling for an audit of VisitPittsburgh, the local tourism-promotion agency.

As the Post-Gazette tells it, Fontana has asked Allegheny County Controller Corey O’Connor to conduct a performance audit of how VisitPittsburgh spends hotel tax revenues. He says he wants to assure the public that “the millions of dollars provided to this private organization each year are being used as intended.”

While there are valid questions whether VisitPittsburgh has been featherbedding the taxpayer dollars it receives – at one point, pre-pandemic, 40 percent of its budget reportedly went to salaries and benefits – the real nub of the rub appears to be that Fontana wants to get his hands on more taxpayer dollars for the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA).

Talk about the raven chiding blackness.

Fontana serves as chairman of the board of the SEA, which owns, supposedly on the public’s behalf, PNC Park, Acrisure Stadium, PPG Paints Arena and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Some background:

VisitPittsburgh, recipient of an estimated $85 million over the last 10 years, is seeking legislative approval of a 2 percent fee on every hotel room in the county to bolster it’s promotion efforts.

But Fontana has intimated that he won’t vote for the deal in Harrisburg unless the SEA gets a share of the booty. Taxpayer funding for the sports and convention venues has not been equitable, Fontana contends.

As per the P-G, “The senator has argued that if the tourism improvement district funding” – the vehicle by which the additional tax would be extracted — is approved, some of the money should be diverted to the SEA to help with chronic deficits at the convention center and to help maintain the three sports venues.”

Well, the sports facilities have sucked up far more than enough taxpayer dollars for their construction and upkeep. If anything, Fontana should be spearheading the effort to offload PNC Park and Acrisure Stadium onto the Pirates and Steelers when their leases expire in a few years. The same thing should happen with the Penguins when their lease-expiration time comes.

As for the convention center, it was shoved down the throats of taxpayers as another kind of wonderful, Rube Goldberg-like perpetual economic generator. But it is a perennial money-loser, a fact Fontana more than tacitly acknowledges.

But instead of throwing even more taxpayer dollars at the convention center, it should be offloaded to a private entity.

Period.

Convention centers, just like playgrounds for the wealthy barons of sport, should not be perpetual wards of the taxpayers.

Period.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).