Taxpayers on the hook for $1M more for Consol Energy Center lease
HARRISBURG — Taxpayers will pay almost $1 million more for the Consol Energy Center lease to the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a budget-related bill the Senate approved on Tuesday and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett for signature or veto.
A 2007 arena deal received state backing as part of a 30-year package to keep the National Hockey League team in Pittsburgh with an Uptown stadium. Under a deal brokered by ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, a number of public and private entities agreed to pay the lease held by the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority.
Corbett's press secretary Jay Pagni said the state must pay $5.6 million over the next five years — $946,000 more than anticipated in 2007. State taxpayers must absorb the increase because of a shortfall resulting from two downgrades of the bond insurer's credit rating and an increase in the variable interest rate, he said.
Mary Conturo, the SEA's executive director, did not return calls for comment.
The money will be transferred from the Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund to the General Fund for distribution.
The state fiscal code, which directs spending throughout the budget, adds a number of seemingly unrelated provisions, from gas regulation to a $10 surcharge on filing certain state court documents. It directs education spending and Medicaid funding. Senators passed the bill 26-22.
Lawmakers last week sent a $29.1 billion budget to Corbett, who refused to sign it. He has until Friday to act.
Legislative leaders of both parties declined to provide a list of names and locations set to receive millions of dollars for projects contained in the bill. The bill's vague language means taxpayers would find it difficult to determine who gets grants, the Tribune-Review reported on Tuesday.
“Sorry, House Democrats have never seen such a list,” Bill Patton, a spokesman for the caucus, said about the projects.
House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin had said he would attempt to provide a list, but did not produce one.
The Senate added the projects in June. Most are described by the general type of entity and the class of municipality where located. They include $250,000 for a mobile child advocacy center and $500,000 to a community college in a fourth-class county with population of 175,000-190,000. Nine of the state's 67 counties are classified as fourth-class counties.
Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, called the bill “a fine example of secrecy and skullduggery.”
“We should be ashamed to run the state in this manner,” Ferlo said.
Critics said the grants are reminiscent of so-called walking-around-money, or WAMs, that legislative leaders for decades tucked into the budgets of executive branch agencies and doled out to rank-and-file members for discretionary disbursement.
Ferlo said he doesn't oppose WAMs — only hypocrisy about them.
“As usual, the fiscal code has become a vehicle for WAMs,” Ferlo said.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said the bill's language is typical.
“It's written in a legalistic way … to withstand judicial scrutiny,” Pileggi said. Eventually, if the grants are awarded, they will become “public record,” he said.
Pileggi suggested it's not difficult to discern the locations of projects. The bill was open to amendments and its contents posted online as H.B. 278, he said.
Asked how many grants were for his district, Pileggi said: “I don't have a list committed to memory. ... I couldn't estimate.”
“Share the wealth,” Ferlo told senators.
Ferlo said the top two leaders of each chamber will split $5 million for an undisclosed purpose. Miskin, with the House GOP, said that money is for legislative parking in Harrisburg.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, indicated he didn't have a list describing the projects, but said: “They're not WAMs. They're not embedded. They're not earmarks.”
Grants for Philadelphia, the only first-class city, and for Allegheny County, the only second-class county, are easy to discern.
Pileggi steered reporters to “the executive branch” for identification of projects set for funding.
“That's quite disingenuous,” Pagni said. “Those are legislative earmarks. Since they originated in the Legislature, the best place to get them is from the Legislature.”
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
- Court attire can have impact, Allegheny, Westmoreland public defenders say
- Man fatally shot in East Liberty; police investigating 2nd shooting
- Closures planned for Parkway West
- Homewood woman accused of card game stabbing
- Newsmaker: Katherine A. Davoli
- Higher school taxes prevail in Western Pennsylvania, Trib finds
- Fireworks displays costly, but W. Pa. communities feel obligated
- Human-waste fertilizer aids farmers, worries some Ohio residents
- State trooper released after Ohio Township crash
- County Council exempts jail health care workers from residency requirement