Orie says arena funding bill next
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A bill critical to funding the new arena in Pittsburgh should be ready for a vote soon, state Sen. Jane Orie said yesterday.
Ms. Orie, R-McCandless, said she expected the arena funding bill to be "one of the first things done" after Gov. Ed Rendell and state legislative leaders broke the budget deadlock that led to the furloughs of nearly 25,000 state employees.
"I believe if the budget is passed, the Penguins funding is ready to go," she said.
Mr. Rendell and the Penguins had raised concerns that the arena project could be in jeopardy if the Legislature recesses for the summer without approving the bill, which would provide $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward the construction.
The money is from a new $1.6 billion fund for capital projects created as part of the 2004 law legalizing slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania. The law directs 5 percent of gross gambling revenue each year to a development and tourism fund.
Mr. Rendell had accused Senate Republican leaders of holding up the bill after it passed the House. But Ms. Orie, the Senate Republican whip, the third-highest ranking leadership post, said senators outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were reluctant to act on the bill until a budget was passed.
She said there also was concern about a large number of projects added to the bill at the last minute, taking it far beyond the original intent to fund the new arena and the expansion of the Philadelphia convention center.
In the latest version, Ms. Orie said, some 220 projects have been removed, leaving only $7.5 million a year for the arena, $15 million a year for 10 years to pay down debt at Pittsburgh International Airport, and funding to expand Philadelphia's convention center and to pay for a Luzerne County airport project.
Ms. Orie said another $500,000 a year that had been added to the arena package to go to a "nonprofit community development fund" to finance infrastructure, construction and redevelopment projects also was removed.
While Mr. Rendell and Senate GOP leaders have clashed over the budget, Ms. Orie said the governor "is on the same page" in terms of what should be funded in the arena bill.
"The governor has agreed based on our stipulation that these 220 some projects that are not imminent and not things that should be attached to this Penguins one ... that they should be removed," she said.
State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, said he would fight to restore the $500,000 for the nonprofit community development fund. He said the money would be spent on redeveloping the Hill above Crawford Street and would be distributed by the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority.
If the Senate doesn't act on the arena funding bill before the recess, it could prevent the authority from issuing $325 million in bonds to fund the construction.
The delay could lead to higher interest rates, which in turn could create a shortfall in the financing for the arena and conceivably could lead to a renegotiation of the terms.
First Published July 9, 2007 11:44 pm