Thursday, June 23, 2005

Murphy's task force gets more muscle - But I'll dispute that article's conclusion.

The PG had an article about yesterday's challenge to statewide gambling.

For starters, let's not forget that the state reps and state senators made this law and put it into place. The original, initial shame on them can't be ignored. Those folks are too often about power and not about doing the right thing.

The article says that the hand-picked task force, the do-good volunteers, the ad-hoc Murphy boosters -- call em what you want except "legit" -- is going to gain in their power. The bad law was knocked down. Sure. But, the power within the bad law wasn't then granted to a different bad organization without structrual powers.
Murphy's task force gets more muscleUp to this point, the task force had not been considering zoning because 'it wasn't on the table,' Porter said. But he added putting such decisions in the hands of local authorities 'clearly is in the interest of the local community.'

Furthermore, as is the case with most of the efforts on Grant Street, the posse who were working on the matter were given tight guidelines and had to stay within their sandbox. They were not looking at zoning because they were not told to look at zoning. And, nobody noticed that there was a case headed to the state supreme court.

The trend is to wear blinders. We have too many sub-groups going willy-nilly and being quick to ignore the important and fumble on the heavy lifting that is called for.

Has anyone seen the minutes of the task force? Has anyone gone to one of their meetings? Has anyone seen their schedule for future meetings? Who is even on the task force? How did the members get approved to be on the task force? What is the task force budget?

What's the real deal for the task force?

What does Bob O'Connor say about the task force as well?

Okay, so let's say the locals get to set some local rules and have them apply to the gambling establishments -- which are not yet established. Why in the world would the paper-organization of the task force gain in muscle? That's the logic in the article that misses the mark.

Zoning gains in muscle.

But, we know from other encounters that zoning is without anything but skin. No bones, no muscle, no fat -- just skin deep perceptions.

When push comes to shove on an issue, the zoning pit stop is skin deep and combat spills over to Pittsburgh's City Council Chambers. If you want to build a high-rise or a pizza-beer joint in Mt. Washington -- go straight to zoning to burn some incense and drop off your plans. Then go straight to the council members and try to sew up your five votes.

I don't have a lot of respect for the zoning process in Pittsburgh. An overhaul is needed, to say the least.

And, I have NO respect for a hand-picked task force created under the watch of Mayor Tom Murphy.

Thank goodness the law was changed the the judges. The outcome makes city council more important in the placement of the casino -- or is it still just called a parlor with slot machines.


Anonymous said...

Another article within the same paper.Pa. Supreme Court upholds slots law

Decision allows state to go ahead in issuing licenses

Thursday, June 23, 2005
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania slot machine supporters breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as the state Supreme Court upheld almost all of the state's year-old casino law.

"It's a 99 percent victory," said a jubilant John Estey, chief of staff to Gov. Ed Rendell, a strong advocate of slots.

The high court struck down three sections of the law, including a provision that prevented municipal zoning boards from exerting influence over where a casino is located in their community.

Casino backers fear local zoning boards could slow down the process for choosing sites for the 14 new casinos allowed under the law.

But on the whole, slots proponents were happy with court decision.

"I am very pleased to see that the state Supreme Court has upheld the slots law that so many Pennsylvanians supported to create jobs, spur economic development and have a major impact on the financial future of the commonwealth," said Rep. Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls .

Act 71, as the slots law is formally known, permits as many as 61,000 slot machines in 14 casinos around the state, including one somewhere in Pittsburgh, one at The Meadows racetrack in Washington County and a new racetrack/casino in either Beaver or Lawrence counties.

The lawsuit against Act 71 was brought by Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, the League of Women Voters, some religious groups and a few conservative Republican legislators.

The lawsuit claimed lawmakers exceeded their constitutional authority by transforming a one-page statute that would have allowed state police to fingerprint people seeking horse-racing licenses into a 145-page law that effectively created an entire gambling industry.

The Supreme Court asked opponents to focus on two issues -- that the state constitution says a bill cannot be amended to change its original purpose and that legislation must address a single subject.

The justices said they were convinced those requirements were met.

"Keeping in mind the trepidation with which the judiciary interferes with the process by which the General Assembly enacts the laws," Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy wrote in the 51-page opinion, "we conclude that as a matter of law, there was a single unifying subject to which most of the provisions of the act are germane, the regulation of gambling."

Michael Geer of Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion said he was disappointed in the ruling.

"We lost a court case, but this means that Pennsylvanians will be losing for many years to come," he said.

In addition to the ban on local zoning board involvement, the court struck down two other parts of the law. One was a provision that gaming revenue be used to aid volunteer fire companies and financially compensate counties with large amounts of forest land. The court said that was not allowable because such spending had no relation to gaming.

The other was a ban on free drinks for casino patrons. The court said such a prohibition was better handled through the state liquor code.

Thomas Decker, a Philadelphia lawyer and chairman of the seven-member Gaming Control Board, which is in charge of licensing and regulating the 14 casinos, said he was "delighted the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of most of Act 71.

"We will continue to move forward with our mission -- implementing and regulating expanded gaming in Pennsylvania," he said.

Decker said the board expects to begin hiring key personnel soon, including an executive director, a chief legal counsel and a director of investigation and enforcement, which will investigate the background of companies that want to operate casinos.

Act 71 gave all power on the siting of casinos to a new seven-member Gaming Control Board, headed by Decker. Its members were named by Rendell and legislative leaders.

Rendell and other slot machine supporters feared that a local zoning board could hold up, for months, the construction of a casino by saying it didn't meet certain local land-use requirements, and thus the new state revenue from slots would be delayed in coming in.

Rendell is hoping to get up to $1 billion in new gaming-related revenue by 2007.

The leaders of the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, named by Mayor Tom Murphy to consider locations and impact of the Pittsburgh slots parlor, welcomed the court decision.

"Clearly it's a win," said co-chair Ron Porter. "Zoning considerations that are dealt with locally are likely to be more in the interests of the community than those made outside the community."

In upholding the slots law, the Supreme Court said it wasn't taking a position one way or the other on whether gambling expansion was a good idea.

"We are neither passing on the wisdom of the substantive provisions of the act nor on whether gaming in general is in the best interests of the citizens of our commonwealth," the court said. "These decisions are for the General Assembly."

Rep. Paul Clymer, one of the plaintiffs who challenged Act 71, said before yesterday's ruling was made public that he believes the law needs more than a little tweaking. He is introducing a bill to make some major changes to Act 71, including banning elected officials from owning up to 1 percent interest in a casino and giving the state attorney general power to investigate any cases of alleged corruption at casinos.

Anonymous said...

Murphy's task force gets more muscle

Thursday, June 23, 2005
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A task force appointed by Mayor Tom Murphy to consider the impact of a slots casino in Pittsburgh could end up with a bit more muscle thanks to yesterday's ruling by the state Supreme Court giving local authorities more control over where such facilities are located.

The task force has been meeting for the last two months to try to come up with recommendations on the type of casino it wants and the type of community benefits it expects from such an operation.

The task force also is putting together design guidelines on issues like lighting, public art, landscaping, pedestrian-friendly facades, sustainable building practices, access, and how the site interacts with the surrounding community.

In the past, members have been working under the assumption that the decisions they made would serve strictly as recommendations to the state Gaming Control Board, which will decide who gets the license for the Pittsburgh casino and others around the state.

But that could change with the Supreme Court ruling. For example, task force recommendations involving design, access, traffic control and other issues could be incorporated into the zoning standards for casinos, said city Planning Director Susan Golomb, who is helping the group with its work.

"I don't think it radically changes the work of the committee. It only means the results of the work could have more of an effect," she said.

Golomb said the city currently has no zoning or planning standards in place for casinos, except for the racetrack and casino proposed by developer Charles Betters as part of a $500 million development in Hays.

The two task force co-chairs, Ronald Porter and Anne Swager, said they were unsure of how the Supreme Court decision would affect their group's work.

Up to this point, the task force had not been considering zoning because "it wasn't on the table," Porter said. But he added putting such decisions in the hands of local authorities "clearly is in the interest of the local community."

"The decision is a plus, no matter how you cut it," he said.

With yesterday's ruling, the state Legislature likely will have to redraft part of the law to give more zoning control over casinos to local authorities.

(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262.)