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Clymer bill seeks slots repeal

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005

For those hoping to channel voter outrage over the now-failed legislative pay raise into a repeal of Pennsylvania's gambling law, the second revolution started Monday.

State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks County, introduced a one-page bill to entirely repeal Act 71, the state's slots law. The bill has 33 co-sponsors but none in the leadership -- and no apparent counterpart planned in the Senate.

Gov. Ed Rendell's office said he would veto the legislation if it ever reached his desk.

"I do not foresee any circumstance" under which Rendell would sign a repeal of slots, said his spokeswoman Kate Philips.

"The governor and legislators supported this, and they promised property tax relief," Philips said.

Even if a full-scale repeal of legalized gambling isn't likely, the issue could build momentum for legislative reform and change the way slots casinos would operate, activists said.

Groups that fought lawmakers' pay raises said they remain angry the slots law passed in July 2004 with little public discussion and in the middle of the night.

"It raises, again, the issue of how the Legislature does business," said Tim Potts, a founder of Democracy Rising PA. "It certainly is worth having the discussion now that we did not have in 2004."

Separately yesterday, members of the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force met in Harrisburg with staff of the state Gaming Control Board. The task force is preparing recommendations for a stand-alone slots parlor in Pittsburgh.

The control board remains open to input, said spokesman Nick Hays. It will award 14 slots casino licenses across the state, sometime next summer. Deadline for applications from potential casino operators is Dec. 28.

"We have to see what is exactly on the minds of this particular group," he said. "Clearly, they're going to have something to say, and we want to hear it."

Clymer said he timed his bill to build off the success of the pay raise opponents, saying the past 30 days have been "momentous."

The state's political landscape has shifted significantly since voter disapproval prompted the General Assembly to reverse itself last month and rescind the 11 percent to 54 percent pay raise for lawmakers, judges and top executive branch officials, he said. Proposed legislative reforms include reducing the size of the Legislature, increasing openness of the General Assembly's records and preventing slam-bang passage of bills without committee review or public hearings.

"What we're looking at is a different type of attitude that is out there among the voters," Clymer said.

What gives "plausibility and credibility" to claims by gambling opponents that the slots law has been a mess is that no one has seen any property tax reduction, said Jerry Shuster, a University of Pittsburgh political communications professor. That there have been no property tax cuts, he added, "plays right into the hands of the reformers."

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