Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why Santarsiero and Shapiro Voted Against Tablegames

I haven't followed the tablegames debate closely. Personally I'm not in favor of them and don't like roads, bridges, and libraries being subsidized by luring people into casinos and encouraging them to spend money they don't have. But that's just me.

A few of our area state reps have issues statements on why they voted against the bill. Here are their remarks:

Steve Santarsiero (D-31)

State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, said today that he voted against legislation that permits the state's slots gaming facilities to offer table games.

The measure was passed by the House and sent to Gov. Ed Rendell for his signature.

Santarsiero said he voted no on the measure for several reasons. He said it one is that it does not allow revenue from table games to be allocated to property tax relief soon enough for the residents of Pennsylvania.

"I strongly believe that an expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania should require that revenue be dedicated to property tax relief immediately," Santarsiero said. "There are so many Pennsylvanians struggling, which is why I supported an earlier proposal by a number of us in the Democratic reform caucus that would have increased the tax rate and license fees to be paid by the gaming industry and would have dedicated the resulting revenue to property tax relief."

Santarsiero said he also opposed the bill because the tax rates it imposes on gaming facility operators are far too low as compared to those imposed by other states, including Delaware and West Virginia. He also said the fees instituted by the legislation – a $16.5 million license fee for Category 1 and 2 facilities and a $7.5 million license fee for Category 3 facilities – are not high enough.

"These rates are a giveaway to the gambling industry and they shortchange the people of Pennsylvania," Santarsiero said. "With the current state of the economy and a potential pension crisis looming, we are going to need that additional revenue."

Santarsiero said he also voted no on the bill because it leaves open the possibility that a gaming facility could be sited in close proximity to Gettysburg National Military Park.

"The park is sacred ground," Santarsiero said. "In my view, locating a gaming facility in close proximity to it would not be respectful to the memory of those who gave their lives there."

Josh Shapiro (D-153):
Tonight I voted against S.B. 711 which would have expanded gaming in Pennsylvania to include table games at casinos across our Commonwealth. The bill now goes to the Governor who is expected to sign it into law.

My decision to vote against the final bill was based on a simple two-part test:

First, does it get the best value for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers? And, second, does the bill adequately reform gambling in our Commonwealth?

This bill comes up short on both accounts.

While it makes a decent attempt at reforming gambling in Pennsylvania, it is not a good deal for the Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.

The licensing fee and table games tax rate are way too low. The original amendment I voted for would have taxed the table games at a rate of 34 percent—slots are already taxed at 55 percent. The bill passed tonight eventually will yield only a 12 percent tax rate for the Commonwealth.

The reason the rates are so low is because they were largely set based on what the casino industry said they’d be willing to pay. Despite my requests, there was no independent analysis done to assess the true market value of the license or a fair tax rate. Failure to set a responsible and fair tax rate will ultimately hurt Pennsylvania taxpayers and require cuts to the budget or increased taxes.

Additionally, this bill is laden with pork and projects for particular special interests. While there are no doubt some worthy recipients in this bill, they should have been funded through the normal budget process—not with de facto earmarks.

We could have responsibly expanded gaming in Pennsylvania and made it a good deal for Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, the course that was chosen will only do harm in the long run.

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