Fitzgerald lays out plans for gas drilling revenue at Pittsburgh airport
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writers Mike Wereschagin and Tom Fontaine contributed to this report.