POLS ON THE STREET: More Gaming a Loser, City Pols Say

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REV. WAYNE WEATHERS of Vision of Hope Baptist Church joined his colleagues in Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity in denouncing the General Assembly proposal to allow poker and slots for 13,500 liquor licensees. Photo by Wendell Douglas

BY JOE SHAHEELI
As Pennsylvania’s government slides closer to the traditional (although often breached) annual budget deadline of July 1, a crucial piece of sausage-making is starting to smell even before it emerges from the grinder.

That’s the preliminary report on a measure put forth by the Republican General Assembly caucuses to paper over part of the projected structural deficit of $3 billion. It hopes to alleviate this gap in part by turning every bar in Pennsylvania into a casino.

The bill now being pressed by the Harrisburg GOP would create some winners – foremost the 13,500 liquor licensees in Pennsylvania. They could prove to be crucial allies not just in this fight, but in many races around the state in 2018. Barkeeps are voices in their communities.

But casinos would be hard hit – as would downstream beneficiaries of their revenue, which include home-owners in most of the state and the School District in Philadelphia.

The initial reaction in Philadelphia has been negative. The Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity expressed strong opposition to this legislation that will massively expand access to gaming into urban communities and neighborhoods. Mt. Pisgah AME Church in Strawberry Mansion hosted their presser.

One of the concerns of the Black Clergy is that this newly passed legislation will increase the availability of video-gaming terminals in every establishment with a liquor license, opening the door to the creation of a new neighborhood nuisance, and reducing the quality of life of already depressed neighborhoods.

BCPV President Rev. Jay Broadnax commented, “While we recognize the need to identify revenue sources to balance the state’s budget, we want to prevent efforts that attempt to do so on the backs of those who can least afford it, and that will actually further diminish the quality of life for the vast majority of our community residents.”

MAYOR John Street – then and now. Four present and former mayors came to speak at the long-delayed unveiling of former Mayor John Street: Bill Green, Wilson Goode, Sr., Jim Kenney and Ed Rendell. Room 201 in City Hall was thronged with well-wishers. Photo by Wendell Douglas

State Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Kensington) voted against this legislation. Speaking for many of his city colleagues, he said the expansion would not only saturate the gambling market at the expense of the Pennsylvania Lottery and the senior-citizens’ programs it supports, it would further threaten the safety and quality of life of residents in the neighborhoods he serves and throughout Philadelphia.

HB 271 includes authorizing up to 30,000 locations for video-gaming terminals at licensed liquor retailers and establishments by the end of 2018 and 40,000 by 2020, as well as gambling tablets or “iGaming” at Pennsylvania’s six international airports, including Philadelphia.

Dawkins added the “stop-and-go” liquor businesses that have been such a problem in Philadelphia would be eligible and that there is no distribution formula for ensuring that Philadelphia neighborhoods are not saddled with the majority of machines.

“My concern is about the stop and go locations. It is a fact that 75% of gamblers have a drinking disorder. We have a saturation of stop-and-gos in Philadelphia and this constitutes another challenge for us,” Dawkins said.

Gaming expansion is not a pure partisan win for the GOP. Many midstate Pennsylvanians frown on gambling and many of their elected Republicans are queasy about it. So this measure may need support from fun-loving urban Democrats to pass.

That support is not in the offing today.

Statewide, Pennsylvanians for Responsible Government, an anti-gaming lobby, released a Harper poll showing most Pennsylvanians oppose balancing the budget by legalizing video-game terminals.

The poll found a near-majority of likely voters oppose VGTs (38% favor/47% oppose), with nearly one-third of voters strongly opposing this proposal (31%) compared to 19% who strongly favor the proposal. Voters of all political parties oppose legalizing VGTs (Republicans: 48%, Democrats: 43%, Independents: 59%). Self-identified Very Conservative voters strongly oppose legalizing VGTs (32%/63%). Seniors overwhelmingly oppose VGTs (ages 65-74: 55% oppose; ages 75+: 61% oppose).

ED RENDELL said DNC money was legally his to dispense.

Ed to GOP: No Returns

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) drew a blunt rebuff from former Gov. Ed Rendell when they asked him to give the $2.1-million surplus in the Democratic National Convention Host Committee to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to help it balance its budget.

The Republican leaders’ reasoning was based on the fact the Commonwealth had issued a $10-million grant to the Host Committee. By their reasoning, this was taxpayers’ money. Rendell had paid out the surplus in bonuses to committee workers instead, an act the lawmakers called “unaccountable handouts.”

Unfazed, Rendell shot back a letter to them that dismissed their charges as “misstatements and inaccuracies.”

A contract is a contract, Rendell insisted, and there was no language in the grant that required a surplus to be returned to the state.

“I assume this was done because, as is the case with the vast majority of our economic development grants, the Commonwealth assumed that the benefits to it and its citizens would far exceed the amount of the grant. That is exactly what happened here,” Rendell retorted.

Although the committee’s Executive Director Kevin Washo received more than $300,000 of this money as a bonus, Rendell noted that a good part of it was paid out to a legion of volunteers who had worked for nothing.

PHILA.’S first Juneteenth parade enlivened the streets of Old City. Mayor Jim Kenney addressed the crowd. He was joined by a star-studded lineup of leaders, among them State Sen. Sharif Street, the event’s organizers Kenny & Faatimah Gamble, and Congressman Dwight Evans. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when the last slaves in America learned they had been emancipated. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Rendell threw the state’s looming $3-million deficit back at Turzai and Reed, tartly telling them their job was to close the gap by raising revenue.

“As to not having State funds to spend frivolously, I understand the Commonwealth’s dilemma. A $3-billion deficit will only be bridged by making hard choices to both raise revenue and take money out of the budget as we did when I became governor and inherited a $2.4-billion deficit from the prior administration,” he wrote.

“I would suggest that it is time for Pennsylvania to join every other shale state in the Union and enact a severance tax. Estimates are that this could produce as much as $500 million which would certainly be helpful in dealing with your deficit,” he jabbed, knowing Republicans are fiercely resistant to the idea of taxing shale-gas revenue in this way.

In fairness, Rendell’s bonuses payouts disturbed some Democrats as well. Gov. Tom Wolf said he was “disappointed” with Rendell’s decision. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stated he would conduct an audit of DNC monies to verify they had been properly spent.

There were no complaints about the payouts from the Philadelphia Caucus on Capitol Hill, however.

Pa. Senate Dems Hire New Campaign Head

The Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee has picked a new executive director, David Marshall.

A Bucks County native, Marshall has helped elect Democrats up and down the ballot from coast to coast. After graduating from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, he began his career in politics as part of President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Since then he has worked in 12 states on races at the local, state and federal levels. In addition to his electoral campaign experience, David has worked in nonprofit fundraising and legislative advocacy.

Marshall returned home to Pennsylvania in 2016 to successfully manage Perry Warren’s campaign for State House. Most recently, David served as the campaign manager on a winning special election for clerk of the court in Prince William County, Va., where his candidate defeated a member of Republican State House leadership to become the first Democrat elected to that office in more than twenty years.

“David is ready to take on the challenge of re-establishing the SDCC as an organization that will help our Senate candidates compete and win in districts across the commonwealth. We are actively recruiting top tier candidates in every district and are ready to get to work for the hard-working families of Pennsylvania,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny).

Philadelphian Targets 7th Congressional Dist.

Educator Paul Perry, 31, from Philadelphia, has announced his bid to run for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, which sprawls from the city’s eastern and northern suburbs into rural Lancaster and Berks Counties.

“I’ve seen – and felt myself – how easy it is to fall behind on low or no pay in our community when pharmaceutical companies exploit vulnerable seniors or students can’t pay back their debt,” said Perry. “The system isn’t fair. America needs a Congress that works for everyone.”

Perry has earned two master’s degrees, in education and public policy, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard University. Adopted and raised by two gay men – both of whom served in the military and were small-business owners – Perry became a teacher and later a nonprofit director working towards youth empowerment.

Perry is running on a platform to build a robust clean-energy economy, make education debt-free, invest heavily in infrastructure projects and establish universal health care. He vows to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, work to end the school-to-prison pipeline, simplify the tax code and eliminate regulations to help small businesses thrive.

Perry has agreed to take zero corporate funding for his campaign, opting for small donations only.

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