Share This Page

Fitzgerald lays out plans for gas drilling revenue at Pittsburgh airport

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald makes a point while visiting the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review when discussing the county's fiscal plans for money made from wet gas drilling on Pittsburgh International Airport land. (JC Schisler | Tribune-Review)
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald listens to a reporter's question while visiting the Tribune-Review on Wednesday, January 23, 2013.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald visited the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Wednesday to discuss the county's fiscal plans for money made from wet gas drilling on Pittsburgh International Airport land. (JC Schisler | Tribune-Review)

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald wants to use money from natural gas drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport to lower gate fees and help drive commercial development there.

But he also wants to boost the county budget.

Fitzgerald said on Wednesday that he asked state leaders to consider taking money designated for paying down debt at the airport and redirecting it to the county. His request relies on the airport's making $4 million to $6 million annually from drilling, plus $45 million in upfront payments from Consol Energy, the lead candidate to drill there. The state gives the airport $12.5 million a year in casino tax money to pay down debt.

Federal rules prevent the county from directly getting any of the airport's drilling money. So if Fitzgerald can't get the state's help, he and airport leaders plan to invest drilling money to lower fees to draw more flights to the airport, and add roads and water pipes to draw more commercial development to its 9,000-acre property. That could help, an expert and a local state legislator said.

“They're doing exactly what they should do,” said Michael Miller, vice president of the Washington-based American Aviation Institute.

Airlines are so cost-conscious after losing a collective $50 billion in the decade after 9/11 that incentives such as lower fees can be a decisive factor when similar markets compete for new flights, Miller said.

On the development side, the biggest need is for more water and sewer pipes, said Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon. He credited past expansions for driving corporate tenants to a slew of now-successful business parks at the airport.

Mustio and other local legislators said they are willing to talk about redirecting the casino money. Some have questions about where the county would spend the money.

Because the money comes from the tax on slot machine revenue and was designed to help the county, it “makes sense” to give it directly to the county, said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

“This is not a general fund budget issue. This is a gaming and economic development fund,” said Costa, the Senate minority leader who played a key role in adding the $12.5 million payments into the gambling bill in 2004. He said Fitzgerald discussed the possible reallocation, but no plans have been made.

“As long as ... any money we take from the airport is replaced, I think it makes sense,” Costa said. “What we don't want to do is lose money.”

Fitzgerald has not talked to Senate Republican leadership about the reallocation, but Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, “would be open to a conversation,” said his spokesman, Erik Arneson.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com. Staff writers Mike Wereschagin and Tom Fontaine contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.