Wednesday, June 15, 2005

18: “Kicking Butt and Taking Names”

The time has come to provide some factual documentation to some of the charges I have made about Act 71. I have repeatedly said it is one of the most unethical pieces of legislation ever contrived in this country, and that it deserves a quick and merciless death.

First some background. For years the Democrats had been yammering about “Riverboat Gambling” being allowed in the state, principally on the Delaware or Schuylkill Rivers in Philadelphia, the Monongahela, Allegheny or Ohio Rivers in Pittsburgh, and likely the Susquehanna at or near Harrisburg. I suspect it included farther up the Delaware above the Delaware Water Gap to attract some of the New York crowd, and on the lakefront at Erie, as well. After 8 years of Republican governors (Ridge and Schweiker), Pennsylvanians elected Democrat Ed Rendell and guaranteed gambling would come to Pennsylvania. Lest you think them blameless, the Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, and have for almost a decade. No legislation gets passed without the consent of at least some of the majority Republicans. One wonders how we got from riverboat gambling to casinos. One also wonders what that particular deal cost Rendell.

Act 71 authorizes the formation of a Gaming Commission in Pennsylvania, and gives that commission wide-raging powers to insert a casino anywhere it wants, regardless of local zoning ordinances, and regardless of local opposition. Act 71 includes verbiage that allows legislators to own a percentage of a casino. Act 72, the sister act to Act 71, adds legitimacy to Act 71 to get gambling past the moralists in Pennsylvania by designating a percentage of the profits from gaming to public education, in order to provide tax relief for homeowners. Act 71 also demands that all casino supplies be furnished by Pennsylvania companies. There is a lot more, but let’s take a look at some facts. You can read all of Act 71 (and the State Ethics and Sunshine laws, and Act 72, among other things) at the Pennsylvania Laws Blog:

http://palaws.blogspot.com

A recent article in the Philadelphia Daily News reported how State Senator Michael Stack III (D-Phila) owned, but did not publicly disclose his ownership as the law requires, almost half of a 46 acre plot of land in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia, along the Delaware River. In 2003 the state sold water rights to the owners of the plot for $100,000, less than 10% of their actual value, supposedly because the site is contaminated. Subsequently, a Las Vegas casino company, Ameristar Casinos, Inc., put an option on the acreage for $37 million. A federal grand jury is investigating. You can read about it at

http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/local/11860057.htm .

The State Republican Committee is sending this information out in the hopes that it will hurt the Rendell Administration and Democrats, in particular. And they are doing this while absolutely ignoring the fact that Act 71 and Act 72 were both passed by a Republican-controlled State Legislature. The egg is on the Republican faces!

The Pennsylvania General Services Administration now requires a specific act of legislation for all deals involving state land to include verbiage that would prohibit the use of the property for gambling. So much for the unsubstantiated rumor that the Governor was about to sell part of the Harrisburg State Hospital (now closed to patients, but open as the headquarters of many divisions within the state Department of Public Welfare) to a gambling syndicate to open a casino there.

In May, the Associate Press reported in an article by writer Marc Levy, that Robert Nix III, who is the son of the late Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, is the president of KGM Gaming LLC, which has an agreement with Aristocrat Technologies, Inc. to distribute Aristocrat’s gaming machines (slots) to Pennsylvania, if the state grants Nix a license. Anyone care to lay odds on this happening? Nix is a Philadelphia attorney.

The same article reports on Lobbyist Melissa Heller, one of the principals in Keystone Slots LLC, who is also a registered lobbyist for IGT Corporation, the largest manufacturer of slot machines in the country. Now, stay with this: Ms. Heller’s previous employment before starting out on her own, was as an employee of the Philadelphia City Council, and a fund raiser for Democratic campaigns, including that of Mayor John Street. Her last supervisor on City Council was Anna C. Verna, a deep political ally of State Senator Vincent J. Fumo, the chief proponent and sponsor of Act 71.

All nice and legal – made so by that wonderful piece of ethically challenged legislation, Act 71. I don’t know if they can smell it in Pittsburgh, but I sure can in Gettysburg -- and I’ve passed landfills that smelled better than this.

Call your legislator. Tell him in no uncertain terms that Act 71 has to go. Repealed! Absolutely, immediately, and without further ado. Do not fall for the link to Act 72 with its promised educational funding and homeowner’s tax relief. Act 72 died on the vine when 80% of the state’s school boards chose not to participate under its umbrella. Follow up your call with a letter, and an email. And if your legislator is slow to act, call him again, and write him and email him again. And do not forget your State Senators, either. Leave no stone unturned. To paraphrase a great American, “Mr. Rendell, tear down that law!”

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