Lawmaker proposes using slots money for water projects

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HARRISBURG -- The 2004 law that legalized slot machines in Pennsylvania created a new Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund.

Fueled by a 5 percent tax on gambling revenue, the fund is to be used to help finance the new Penguins' arena in Pittsburgh and a major expansion of the convention center in Philadelphia.

But what about the other 65 counties in Pennsylvania?

Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, has an answer.

She's sponsoring Senate Bill 2, which would use the slots tax money to float a $750 million bond issue. It would be used to repair "high-hazard dams" and for other water projects in all counties except Allegheny and Philadelphia.

She calls her proposal the "H2O PA Act." The Senate's Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved it yesterday. It still needs full Senate approval.

State Auditor General Jack Wagner recently released an audit citing hundreds of dams that need restoration or strengthening, and said doing that will be a costly proposition. He said a high-hazard dam is one that could cause a large loss of life if it gives way.

Besides dam repair in the 65 counties, the money would pay for constructing or repairing water and sewer lines and for storm water and flood control projects.

The bonds would be floated through the Commonwealth Financing Authority, which borrows money for a variety of projects. It would consult with the state Department of Environmental Protection on which projects get funded.

When the slots law was enacted, some legislators who aren't from Allegheny and Philadelphia counties weren't happy that it listed just those two areas for the economic development funding. The Earll bill is designed to deal with such concerns.

Currently the slots-funded economic development kitty contains about $78.6 million from the seven open casinos of the 14 authorized.

Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at or 1-717-787-4254.


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