October 13, 2016

Op-Ed: Saving The Local Share Of Pennsylvania’s Gaming Assessment

By: Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh)

The clock is ticking.
The state Supreme Court gave the General Assembly just four months to fix a provision in the state’s gaming law that required casinos to provide a portion of slot machine proceeds to local host municipalities and counties for a wide range of projects and programs.
Since gaming was legalized a decade ago, host municipalities have received nearly $140 million dollars in local share assessment (LSA) pay-outs every year. Losing these monies would have a devastating impact on communities that have had to make continual infrastructure investments to accommodate casinos.
Ranging from life-saving ambulance equipment in Bethlehem Township to the Police Ballistic Protection Program in Palmer Township, local governments have used this funding to bolster emergency services, improve roadways and enhance water systems.  
In fact, funding from this source was used to build a new police station in Freemansburg, a project that likely never would have occurred without this revenue source.  LSA assessments have been used to fund a number of projects throughout the entire Lehigh Valley.
For its part, the gaming industry has largely recognized its role in remunerating municipalities that have accommodated large casinos in their communities. In fact, the court challenge wasn’t aimed at overturning the law, just correcting a disparity in the assessment method.
The LSA program is clearly worth preserving and it is imperative that the legislature act urgently to remedy the law.  Communities are in the process of putting together their budgets for the next fiscal year.  
In many municipalities, these funds are used to offset local property tax increases that would otherwise be needed to support personnel and equipment needs of these communities.  
While the Court may have struck down the assessment of these funds, the demand for the resources within our communities is constant.  The harsh reality is that if the legislature fails to reenact the LSA, local communities could be facing even greater local property tax increases to replace the lost revenues.  
We cannot allow this to happen.
To that end, it is important that members in both the state Senate and House of Representatives work to coordinate a bipartisan, bicameral effort to quickly examine the court ruling, hash out corrective language and expedite action.
I am working with my colleagues who have casinos in our districts to develop a workable solution.  
In meeting the court’s timeframe, lawmakers cannot allow the corrective language to be sidetracked or bogged down by other gaming issues or proposals.
While I would be the first to admit that there are several areas in the gaming law that the legislature should revisit, we cannot allow these unrelated issues to delay language that will remedy the LSA issue within the court’s timeframe.
For my part, I plan on continuing to work with my colleagues in the Lehigh Valley legislative delegation as well as both the Democratic and Republican caucus leaders. We need to do all we can to expedite this remedial process.
These funds are too critical to local governments, emergency responders and those who rely on LSA-funded programs and services.
Our local communities are relying on us.  It’s time to get back to work and enact a targeted, sensible solution.