PA Treasurer Analyzes Gaming Markets

Ten casinos are already operating in the Keystone State.  Two resort casinos are pending, and two casino licenses are currently unallocated.  One of those remaining two licenses was originally awarded to Foxwoods project in Philadelphia, and eventually revoked by the Gaming Control Board.  The other is earmarked for a yet-to-be-built racetrack in Lawrence County. 

Both licenses are subject to possible legislative intervention and relocation, and a key Senate committee got the first look at Treasurer Rob McCord’s analysis of alternative locations at a hearing this week.  “When you take a look at eastern Pennsylvania, supply and demand seem to be meeting each other… when you move to western Pennsylvania you move from maturation to potential saturation,” explained McCord, who by way of his office is a non-voting member of the Gaming Board and legal custodian of gaming funds.

McCord commissioned a study with the Innovation Group, and found that the numbers drive regulators and policymakers to look at central Pennsylvania.  Ranking alternative casino locations based on the net gain to PA gaming revenues, South York tops the list with a $154-million dollar impact.  “This is a net revenue number.  So you might see in Philadelphia the highest gross number but then you have to ask yourself, how much of that is cannibalization of Pennsylvania facilities?   You really don’t care if you’re cannibalizing out-of-state facilities,” McCord says.  Reading, PA came in at number two among the ranked alternatives. 

Rob McCord Gaming Presentation

McCord's presentation focused on the net gain for Pennsylvanians.

State Senator Jane Earll (R-Erie) who chairs the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee recognizes there is some legislative interest in moving either of the aforementioned licenses.  “I think to have concrete information about what the potential impacts on our incumbent investments might be is helpful,” Earll said after the hearing.  McCord made no recommendations, rather calling the study a tool for analysis. 

The study also found that a potential casino in Youngstown, Ohio would have a significant impact on future profits from the would-be Valley View casino in Lawrence County.  The Ohio project would have a near 33% impact, dropping net revenues from $122-million to $83-million under that scenario.

Groups Unite Against Electoral Proposal

The halls of the state capitol are filled with talk of a controversial new plan to change presidential elections in Pennsylvania.  Many critics are calling it a distraction from an already busy fall agenda.  Those critics gathered in the capitol rotunda, this week, to voice their displeasure.  “It destroys Pennsylvania’s clout in the presidential selection process, transforming us from one of three or four key battleground states into the relative equivalent of Utah or North Dakota,” says State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).

Leach is blasting a proposal to award one electoral per congressional district, based on the election results within that district.  That would account for 18 of the state’s 20 electoral votes.  The remaining two would be awarded to the winner of the popular vote in the state.  Pennsylvania’s current model – like 47 other states – awards all of its electoral votes to the candidate who nets the most votes statewide. 

Barry Kauffman

Barry Kauffman of Common Cause PA

A host of reform minded groups joined Sen. Leach to speak out against the plan, including Common Cause Pennsylvania.  “It is bad enough that Pennsylvania is a state where partisan gerrymandering runs wild,” says Common Cause PA executive director Barry Kauffman.  “But, this proposal exacerbates that problem by perpetuating unfair, irrational congressional districts in an attempt to pre-determine who will win the bulk of PA’s electoral votes.” 

Joining Sen. Leach and Kauffman were the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Democracy Rising PA and Rock the Capital.  They spoke out on the same day that Governor Tom Corbett was reportedly in Washington DC discussing the idea with Republican members of PA’s congressional delegation. 

The proposal is being sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) and backed by Corbett.  House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) personally supports his plan, but says he doesn’t know what the consensus would be within his caucus.   

Supporters say the goal is to more fairly represent Pennsylvania voters in the Electoral College.  “Instead we hear issues like clout, or money, or number of visits by a presidential candidate,” Sen. Pileggi told reporters this past weekend.   “That’s not the focus of my bill.”

Wine Kiosk Program Ends in Contract Dispute

The deadline has passed without a resolution in a contract dispute between the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the vendor for its wine kiosk program.   It means that the experiment with the wine vending machines at grocery stores has come to an end.

LCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalec says the kiosks are no longer open and they’re working with the vendor, Simple Brands LLC, on a removal schedule.  There were 21 of the kiosks still operating after Wegmans pulled out of the program earlier this year.  

The LCB says Simple Brands should reimburse over one million dollars in expenses incurred with the kiosk program. The company disputed the amount, saying some of the expenditures were unnecessary.   The LCB exercised a 45 day cure period in the contract and that period came to an end Monday night without a resolution.  The machines did not open on Tuesday morning.

The LCB plans to hold Simple Brands accountable, according to Witalec.

The stores that housed the kiosks have the option of applying for a license that would allow them to sell limited amounts of beer and wine.  The Wegmans store on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg has such a license. Witalec says over 80 grocery stores have already applied for similar licenses. She says interested stores have to go through the typical licensure process.

Witalec says they’ve also been discussion with a number of retailers who are interested in having one of their brick and mortar stores connected or within their established locations. She says these are known as one stop locations and there are currently 19 in the Commonwealth.  She says it’s another model that is successful and they look forward to utilizing as well.

The experiment with the kiosks began last year and had come in for recent criticism from the Auditor General and others for not meeting its goal of customer convenience. Meanwhile, the state House Majority Leader launched a campaign this summer to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania.

Capitol View from East Wing

Bills Drafted in Response to Massive Floods


Bloomsburg Flood - Tropical Storm Lee

Bloomsburg, Columbia County was among the hardest hit areas.

As recent flooding reached historic proportions in many communities, lawmakers are preparing bills to augment federal disaster aid and speed the recovery process.  “State government will never be the ultimate insurer,” says State Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).  “But when disaster strikes, it is a core function of government to protect lives & property, to restore public safety & infrastructure, and to provide victims the necessities of life when the emergency robs them of everything they need and value,”

Officials say the seven-bill, bipartisan package should be ready soon, and they expect quick action once it’s been formally introduced. 

One bill would create a special account to provide additional state grant money to eligible flood victims who’ve maxed out their federal aid. 

State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia)

State Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia)

Another bill would authorize $250-million dollars in bonds to pay to repair flood damaged roads and bridges.  “We will be getting, hopefully, a tremendous amount of federal assistance for the hundreds – maybe thousands – of roads and bridges that have been damaged, but normally the federal government provides about 75% of the funding,” says State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia), who’s spearheading the effort. 

Three bills in the package would authorize county-by-county lists of flood damaged roads, bridges and flood control systems, adding them to the state’s capital budget. 

Local taxing bodies would have the ability to abate the property taxes on condemned structures, under another bill.  The final bill of the package would allow for educational waivers for things like the 180-instructional day mandate.  “I can tell you that I have at least one school district in my senatorial district that as of today still is not back in school,” Gordner explains.  “That is the Benton Area School District in Columbia County.” 

In addition to Senators Gordner and Baker, John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and John Blake (D-Lackawanna) are sponsoring parts of the package of bills.  The sponsors have not yet put a price tag on the legislation, but the special account for flood victims would come out of the budget surplus from fiscal year 2010/2011.

New Poll says Parents May be Turning Car Seats Around Too Early

It’s National Child Passenger Safety Week and a new poll finds parents may be turning their child’s seat around too early.   More than 70% of the people who answered a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll said they turn their child’s car seat to face forward before the baby’s second birthday.  But research shows that riding in a rear facing car seat is up to five times safer for toddlers.

Dr. Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan Medical School, says when a seat faces forward, a child’s head and limbs tend to move forward in a crash. She says toddlers have fairly large heads relative to their necks and that puts a lot of strain on the cervical spine and spinal cord.  She says the back of a rear facing seat absorbs more of the force of the crash.  

Dr. Macy says their study did not ask why parents are turning the seats before age two, but other research has shown parents may want to be able to see the child or may be afraid their child’s legs will be injured as they grow bigger. She says leg injuries have really been noted in car crashes and those spine injuries when children are facing forward are more common and dangerous.

She says mirrors a parent might use to be able to see the child have not been crash tested.  She says there are concerns they could dislodge and strike the parent or child in a crash.  She says parents should rest assured their child’s safest when they’re rear facing.  She says the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends the seat not be turned to face forward before the child is age two.

Contractors Busy with Repairs Due to Lee

Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have been keeping contractors busy repairing damage, and   helping people and businesses start the rebuilding process.   In some cases, even sump pumps could not keep up with the heavy rains, leaving a lot of work behind.

John Zimmer, President of the Keystone Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, says it starts with efforts to limit the initial damage. He says carpet and flooring have to be pulled out. Damaged dry wall must be ripped out and equipment has to be brought in to dry out and dehumidify the building.

Some homes and business just need repairs after that, but others need to be completely remodeled or rebuilt.  Zimmer says businesses continue to suffer economic damage until they can reopen.

Zimmer says some of the people who escaped flooding have found leaks from the pounding rain and wind damage from earlier wind storms that may have gone unnoticed.  He says asphalt shingles may have gotten ripped off of roofs.  The heavy rain can also find other fissures and cracks where a normal rain would not have created problems, so some people are finding water damage around windows and doors.

Zimmer says if you’re looking for a contractor, be patient and work with local trade associations to get references.  He reminds consumers that home repair contractors in Pennsylvania must be registered under state law.

Zimmer says despite drains and sump pumps, their chapter headquarters did not escape damage from Lee.   They got about 5” of standing water in the basement where they hold apprenticeship training classes. So they’ve  had to improvise this week without their classroom and shop.

Child Passenger Safety Week is Marked In Pennsylvania

It’s National Child Passenger Safety Week and state officials want to make sure your kids are buckled up properly.   If you’re using a child safety seat, the chances are that it may not be properly installed. Safety checks in the past found as many as 8 out of 10 seats were not being used properly.

Erin Waters, a spokeswoman for PennDOT, says local and state police, as well as safety partners, are offering safety checks this week.  You can find a list at

In 2010 in Pennsylvania, nine children ages newborn to 8 years were killed in vehicle crashes. More than two thousand children in that age group were injured.

Waters says safety checks in the past have found says that were not properly secured to the vehicle. She says children may not be in the appropriate seat for their height, age and weight, or the child may not be properly strapped into the seat.

Waters says if you can’t get to one of the scheduled safety checks, you should go to the web site and look at the child passenger safety page.  She says you can also schedule a check appointment with your local state police barracks, or with the American Academy of Pediatrics Pennsylvania Chapter at 1-800-car-belt.

Waters says that Pennsylvania law requires children under age four to ride in a federally approved car seat that meets their age, height and weight requirements.  Children between 4 and 8 must use a booster seat.  PennDOT recommends that children up to age 12 ride in the back seat, regardless of whether they’re in a booster seat.

**Photo courtesy of