A Sure Winner

Concerns about the impact of casinos on city life are completely understandable, even wise. Poorly-planned development can make a hash of sound residential communities. In addition, gambling comes with associated social costs for which someone must make a reckoning. We hope the City and Commonwealth will tackle both challenges well as it proceeds.

In this case, though, “well” necessarily means “soon”. To put off the construction of these major projects any longer is a bad bet, one Philadelphia is guaranteed to lose.

That’s because we need the money. First of all, the Commonwealth needs the money to fund a host of new liabilities that are already on its books. For better or worse, Harrisburg will make these casinos happen because it has already banked this revenue stream in advance. Working against Harrisburg, Philadelphians will be outnumbered and outgunned. Working with Harrisburg, Philadelphians will get a chance to shape the projects somewhat to their advantage.

Secondly, the City needs the money. We have a new administration that wants a new day, a new way. That means new funding, Mr. Mayor.

In a campaign that proved wildly popular with the citizenry, Mike Nutter proposed to spend more on police, health programs, arts programs, schools and Community College. He is opening up new offices in City Hall as fast as desks can be delivered – for business, culture, public relations, transportation, zoning and housing, to name but a few.

At the same time, Nutter is determined to keep cutting the City’s destructive business and wage taxes. Great! In the long run, a healthier business environment will pump revenues in a healthier way.

In the short term, however, it looks like we’re walking into a recession. That can wreak havoc with the Mayor’s best-laid plans. If a general economic downturn affects our region, a wide range of business and wage taxes will drop.

The real-estate market is cooling off at the same time. This will lead to lower earnings from the transfer tax.

The city cannot afford, in 2008, to turn away any longer from the immediate economic benefits of casino construction. They are threefold: direct payments from the casinos, indirect tax income from construction revenue and indirect tax income from the new long-term casino jobs.

Deferring a decision on the casinos for another year is the kind of decision the City could have risked, perhaps, in the go-go ‘90s. It is deeply imprudent today. If Philadelphia doesn’t act to move ahead now, it risks squandering the momentum of change and slipping back into another holding pattern or worse, another quagmire of decline.