- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Dan Hunter organized CFP for 3.5 years and is now writing a book about it. I am reposting his excellent reaction post from Casino Free's website. I am also posting here also the timelines of the casino fight that Dan talks about so you can look that them yourself and compare:
A must read.
On Being a Casino Slayer
By Daniel Hunter
Dec. 17, 2010
Right after his appearance at the Gaming Control Board in Harrisburg last week (March 3), Steve Wynn found himself in the position of having to answer some really basic questions from reporter Jennifer Lin about the venue where he wants to build his casino. His ignorance of the issues is stunning. Some powerful people apparently felt that this sleaze is the right person to revive Foxwoods.
Video by Roxbury News. roxburynews.com
After the City and Penn Praxis invested so much time, effort, and resources into putting together a publicly-supported plan for the Central Delaware waterfront, prospective waterfront tenant Steve Wynn, who wants to buy the Foxwoods project and its much criticized South Philly site, sent the wrong message yesterday in Harrisburg:
"The waterfront is horribly ugly in that place," said Wynn, who walked the casino lot on Tuesday night. "You couldn't do any more damage to it if you set it on fire."
Mr. Environmental Sensitivity also said the only way he'd agree to build the hotel that was part of the approved Foxwoods deal was if he got access to even more waterfront property, suburban sprawl-style. Seems like he doesn't believe that urban architecture should build up instead of out.
The funny thing is this makes it easier for the Gaming Control Board to do the right thing.
Why grow a conscience now?
"I signed this [table games] bill despite the misgivings I have about it," Rendell said soon afterward at a news conference in his Capitol office. "I have serious misgivings about 'sin' taxes as a way to go. There is no sense of celebration."
Among other thing, it should be noted that the Governor was willing to:
- Take more than a million dollars in campaign contributions from gambling interests over the years, not to mention a little slots win he forgot to report
- Hold up the state budget for more than 100 days to resolve gambling revenue;
- Hold hostage state universities for months longer, tying their state money to passage of table games;
- Forego a tax on the billion dollar natural gas industry even though it could bring in the same amount of revenue as table games; and
- Threatened to lay-off 1,000 state employees in the days leading up to the bill's passage.
Doesn't exactly sound like a man wracked by guilt does it?
Don't be sorry, Mr. Governor. It's not like you were alone in the effort. It took a Supreme Court decision last spring to overturn political gambling contributions. It took the sneaky and possibly illicit lobbying activities of the Pennsylvania Casino Association (headed by the father-daughter team of a former Supreme Court Justice) to ply the legislature. It took millions of dollars in campaign contributions from personal friends and donors.
And look what that bought. As Paul Boni noted in his excellent op-ed last week, the new table games legislation now allows:
- Slots on credit, because no one should stop gambling just because they ran out of money!
- Classifies casino employees as “essential workers.” Because no one should value a casino less just because daycares, libraries, parks and rec centers close!
- Virtually free table games licenses and taxes them at a rate lower than the working poor (16% the first year, 14% from year 2 on out)!
- Permits members of the Gaming Control Board to be casino employees because who better can regulate the very industry that pays them!
After all, Mr. Governor, think about how much you pinned the state budget on gambling – it’s the second highest revenue generator. Second only to education funding, gambling in PA is your legacy and, if certain lawmakers continue to attack the education formula, it could be your lasting legacy.
Don't back down now. Embrace the PA you created.
Although Chicago rivals Philadelphia in corruption — the Windy City is opposed to casinos and yet was able to transform their waterfront and garner national attention without gambling. Even in tough economic times Chicago’s notoriously corrupt Mayor Daley is clear on his views about casinos in Chicago. He recently held a press conference to dispell any rumors that sites identified for Chicago's Olympic bid might now be developed into casinos ....
MAYOR DALEY: “I don’t know why everybody is going around thinking that casinos are the answer to all the problems of society”
REPORTER: “So no way, no how?”
MAYOR DALEY: “I would be against it completely”
It has been a busy week, but, I wanted to use my miniature bully pulpit to talk for a second about Foxwood’s huge defeat at the hands of Chinatown and their merry band of activists.
Here is my basic take on all of this:
1) The defeat of Foxwoods lurch into Center City was an incredible victory for the people of the No Casino in the Heart of Our City coalition. Think about what Chinatown and friends were up against: The Governor, the Mayor, Councilman DiCicco and assortment of state politicians. This looked like tilting at windmills when it began. Instead, it is a huge, incredible win for a community that was basically on an island. It really is incredible. First the stadium, now Foxwoods. I guess it is time to stop trying to bulldoze your way into Chinatown?
2) It is OK to note that this is also a sad turn for South Philly. I agree with Helen that the more Foxwoods ping pongs around like a punch drunk boxer, the more weakened it is, and the less likely it is to build. But, there is no denying that neighborhoods surrounding Pennsport are understandably freaked out and saddened by this news. It is a simple reality that when a casino is in your backyard, you care about it more. (I know Trump trying to open a slots barn a quarter of a mile from my childhood home-and my parents’ current home- made the casino fight very real.) One of the worst parts of the casino process was basically forcing 5 (and then 6) neighborhoods to square off against each other when trying to keep casinos away from their homes.
3) Connected to that, the behavior of politicians in response to this all has so far been really disappointing. The general response of people such as Frank DiCicco has been to slam the decision in a way that is pretty divisive. Here is the thing- it is OK if someone thinks the waterfront is a worse place for a casino than Center City. But, the other reality is that a lot of these politicians are supposed to represent BOTH of these communities. And yet, the rhetoric in the last 6 months or so was them telling their constituents in Chinatown to shut up and accept a casino for the good of the city, and their constituents on the river.
Chinatown didn’t listen, and did what communities should do: they fought like hell for the fabric of their neighborhoods, and won. Yet, when they won, they were greeted with more derision from their own representatives. From an outsider’s perspective, that just doesn’t feel right. Yes, yes, I get that they think this is a bad decision. But, your own constituents just fought a huge emotional battle, with none of your help, and they won. There should be at least a measure of grace in those responses acknowledging what they did, not statements that make it seem as if people on the river’s concerns about their homes trump their neighbor's five miles away.
5) So where does this leave us? Maybe this isn’t even a possibility, but, is it time for a grand bargain? I don’t know if it is remotely feasible legislatively for the casino to be shoved down to the airport. But, at a time when Foxwoods will likely never be weaker, is it time to find out?
I hate casinos. They are a regressive tax, and they increase addiction in their neighbors. But, I also believe that at some point, a casino will be built. Is it demonstrably worse for Philadelphians if there is a casino at the airport and in Chester, versus just Chester?
Update -- 1:39 pm -- The Gaming Board rules that Foxwoods gets extension but reiterates for it not to "waste it's time" on any other site but the waterfront at the level promised. Unanimous.
Helen Gym is in Harrisburg, and reports that Foxwoods says it will be operation in South Philly in May 2011, but wants a "temporary facility." (I am sure that will be beautiful.) And, it might ask for a relocation later. The Gaming Board would have to consent to either of these. More quickly jotted notes:
On conditions for the extension:
- PCGB lawyers recommend conditions as follows: within 30 days of board extension provide plan for 1500 slots at it's approved location; provide written monthly updates on financing on approved location; within six months provide a financing plan; within 3 months of all architectural renderings, all documents related to construction of facility, including timeline, etc. In total 10 recommendations all of which state at "it's approved location." Last recommendation is negotiating with community groups.
- Foxwoods responding that they're worried about the timeline that they "might be in default of." They don't like the first month plan or the drawings for the facility; Dopn't like timeline for permits and licenses- "we can't control what the govt does." These things include mandated community negotiations, which "puts an axe over our head"
- Gaming Board member says he'll revoke the license if they try to move; another said that they don't want to hear about phases and "want some sort of assurance that they'll have a facility".
- Commissioner asks: you have six months, "are you going to do anything?"
On the nature of the facility:
- Foxwoods says that it needs time to assess the situation to make a "quality competitive facility"
- Commissioner reiterates says that we voted for what you proposed in 2006. You made a commitment to this board and to this Commonwealth and we're going to hold your feet to the fire.
On the location:
- Office of Enforcement notes that Foxwoods lacks most basic permit at Columbus Blvd., which is the zoning and use permit.
- Commissioner asks if, based on the original proposal, they would be prohibited from getting permits.
- Chair: "Can't reiterate enough the concern of the board any discussion of relocating. I cannot say it emphatically enough that if this petition is granted we expect that facility to be on Columbus Blvd and in the way it was presented."
- Any discussion of relocating "is a fool's errand."
Ahhh, the lowly brief. When I was a reporter in Mansfield, OH, it was always a struggle to define your artistic style by finding the right cut-off point for the AP wire story, or in limiting your words to fit the news hole while your overcaffeinated news editor yelled at you. Then again, less is often more.
Take these two examples today:
- On John Yoo:
A convicted terrorist can sue a former Bush administration lawyer for drafting the legal theories that led to his alleged torture, ruled a federal judge . . . The order by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco is the first time a government lawyer has been held potentially liable for the abuse of detainees.
- And on the Foxwoods fiasco:
[Councilman Frank] DiCicco was peeved that Rendell recently met with representatives of Foxwoods Casino to discuss concerns that Foxwoods' planned Center City site did not have enough parking. This after Foxwoods testified before Council that it had ample parking, and Mayor Nutter extolled the virtue of a site so close to public transit. . . . "I'm not happy that I was not included in those discussions," DiCicco said.
It’s hard to believe that today marks nine months to the day since a line-up of politicos from the Governor on down stood end to end in City Hall and declared the heart of Philadelphia as their target for the flailing casino industry. Employing every tactic in the book (including political threats and gaming board maneuvers), with a hearty dose of environmental racism toward Chinatown, Rendell and city leaders made it seem like there was no done deal like this done deal.
But after nine months, where have things gone?
The casino, in Dan’s colorful imagery, has now lurched to Strawbridge’s, its third attempted site, where it sits fallow today. No plans. No drawings. Nothing "on the back of a napkin" as Mayor Nutter said last fall, to show what this thing will look like, what it will offer Philadelphians, and how it will contribute to a desperate economy.
Is it telling that despite seeking PR for its support of last weekend’s International Championship bike race, Foxwoods gave up its promotional table to Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center – perhaps because there’s nothing to promote?
Is it telling that last week’s City Council session came and went with barely a mention of Foxwoods’ zoning permit for Strawbridge’s that has sat for over a month, while owners squabble?
And is it telling that with only two more Council sessions to go, neither Foxwoods nor the City has anything to show for all their boasting and posturing of a December 2009 opening.
At the same time, a number of things have happened that bodes poorly for Foxwoods:
A round-up of things in my neck o’ the woods:
- Foxwoods fiasco remains stalled: The bizarre Foxwoods fiasco remains stalled out, but that didn’t stop the casino from filing for a license extension last week. The petition reads like one long plaintive whine on why their gamble on a downtown casino hasn’t hit the jackpot yet. It also demonstrates how effective Councilman Frank "My Fighting Days are Over" DiCicco and Mayor "No Barriers to Casinos" Nutter were in stalling the project and potentially getting concessions from the casinos – something both have refused to do now that the project is off the waterfront.
- Petition to stop predatory gambling practices: Meanwhile, the No Casino in the Heart of Our City Coalition is pushing a petition for City Council which targets predatory gambling practices (sign here). The "No Blank Check For Casinos" Campaign argues that Council has a moral and civic duty to enact basic protections when a slots house is placed next to neighborhoods and homes – things like: making sure casinos close between 2-8 a.m.; prohibiting free unlimited alcohold service, and prohibiting ATM machines and lending on the casino floors. So far DiCicco has argued that such protections are outside his control.
Ironically, in 2007, DiCicco made sure the City amended its otherwise strict limitations on payday lending to exempt casinos. Seems like it’s not impossible after all for Council to consider citizens’ needs as well as casino needs.
- Another out of touch Inky editorial: Over the weekend, the Inquirer published yet another awful editorial on the Philadelphia public schools. It was based on the annual report written by the District’s one-note Safe Schools Advocate, whose apparent sole contribution is an annual doomsday report on school violence. In its editorial "Rotten Apples," the Inquirer stated it’s time to "get rid of persistent troublemakers." Unfortunately, its tough on kids approach offered few options, and the Safe Schools Advocate, as expected, simply pounded on his one issue – noting the fact that schools don’t expel enough kids. That got me thinking about a recent Baltimore Sun story about Baltimore’s "go nuclear" approach: permanent expulsions under zero tolerance. With zero tolerance, there’s hardly any need for due process (parents have 10 days to appeal in writing) and the rotten apples are prohibited from attending any public, charter or disciplinary school, thereby placing the entire burden on the parents to either home-school or pay for private school.
So, let's recap here:
- For months, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), chaired by Rendell BFF Ron Rubin, has been claiming that they own the Strawbridge's building which they intend to lease to themselves via Foxwoods casino, whose lead investor is Ron Rubin's "charitable trust."
- errr . . . they lied. OK they fudged facts since they are actually owners of Strawbridge's Unit A.
- The other owners of Strawbridges didn't like that which surprised and shocked Councilman Frank "My Fighting Days are Over" DiCicco.
- BUT the bill passed through committee and will be read in Council this morning anyway!
Now for the record, the Councilman promised he wouldn't bring anything to a vote because why would you want to deal with this?
The Strawbridge Building is a commercial condominium. DiCicco is concerned that there is something in the ownership agreement that would prohibit the bottom floors from being used as a casino. He is also worried that Gramercy might take either PREIT or City Council to court if the CED legislation is passed. He also said Gramercy could potentially file a lawsuit alleging that the zoning change lessened the value of its property.
But it begs the question again, what was the Planning Commission doing when it whole-heartedly gave the project its endorsement a few weeks back? or when everyone from the Mayor to the Councilman applauded the move to Strawbridge's?
And while all of city leadership bucks process, it's interesting how one tenant can say the same thing that our city leaders ignored from 1,000 people, 25,000 petitions, and the dozens of groups who are part of the No Casino in the Heart of Our City Coalition - which is that no one, not even the co-owners of a building, really thinks that casinos are a viable form of economic development.
Breaking news from the AP wire:
Pennsylvania's highest court says a ban on political campaign contributions by casino owners and executives is unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the ban violates the state constitution's guarantee of free speech. . . . The ban was touted as a major bulwark against the political influence that the lucrative gambling industry can exert over policymakers.
The Supreme Court noted in its opinion that the ban on political contributions was overly broad. In writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ron Castille suggested other alternatives:
"While the ban on political contributions does further the compelling state interest in avoiding the appearance of corruption in the oversight of the gaming industry, Section 1513 is not narrowly tailored," Castille wrote. "A statute that limited the size of contributions, rather than absolutely prohibiting any contributions, would be more narrowly drawn to accomplish the stated goal."
That’s what they did in Maryland, so how’d that turn out?
I work on a lot of things now, and they are all interconnected in many ways, although it’s not always obvious. What holds all of the things I work on together is the principle that the public should have the power to make decisions for itself, without intermediary, and that structures and places that allow and facilitate the necessary discussion and decisionmaking should be free, and protected by law.
I want to write about the casino fight because, as with so many things, the public conversation has become a little amnesiac about what has really happened here.
After all, last fall’s show about making the Gallery the sworn choice for a Center City slots joint was a tough act to follow. No plan, no design, no studies, no financing, but Council was able to ram through rezoning a 16-square block area before they could blink.
A city planning commission vote was such a rubber stamp at least two Planning Commission members voted not to oppose the project by shrugging their shoulders. After 1,000 people marched in the streets and 60 citizens gave five hours worth of testimony at a packed Saturday Council hearing, Council committee members unanimously voted to move a motion forward and left the room before we had picked up all the signs and banners from the seats. Council acted similarly in waiving requirements to speed up the final casino zoning vote. Except for a brief comment by Councilman Curt Jones Jr. and a classic reprimand by Council President Verna – “nothing you say can change this vote” – nothing referenced the concerns that a distraught community had raised for weeks. The same held true for the Mayor when he came in on a Sunday morning to sign the legislation for the Gallery zoning into law, less than 24 hours after meeting with community members.
So how can City leaders possibly top that?
Let’s review the huddle conversation.