Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Arena circus goes round and round...

So, the latest developments in the Arena saga have seen Gov Rendell, County Executive Onorato and Mayor O'Connor talking about how the Penguins need a Plan B. More insultingly, they've been saying that they'd love to talk to the Penguins to work with them on a plan, but the team won't talk. Of course, the reason the team won't talk is that they're in an exclusive agreement with Isle of Capri and can't talk. It's wonderfully convenient for our elected leaders to suddenly want to talk AFTER the team put together their own plans.

The politicians are playing us badly. Let's give a little bit of perspective to these moves. In Pennsylvania, there have been some very interesting things happening that have made many politicians stand up and take notice. I'll chronicle a small list of events:

  1. In the middle of the night, and without debate, our state politicians vote themselves a 16% pay raise. They do so at a time when the state is in financial difficulty and also has the second largest legislature in the country. PA also has more state congressmen and senators per capita than any state in the nation. To further thumb their collective noses at their constituents, they allow their raise to be taken immediately, via "unvouchered expenses", which basically means they can submit expense reports without any kind of substantiation for the money that would be in their raise. By the state constitution, any raise voted on by the legislature cannot take effect until the beginning of the next session. The defense to the unvouchered expenses? They did it last time they got the raise, and it survived a challenge by being upheld by the State Supreme Court. The problem with that? The judges on the Supreme Court also received the pay raise!! This time, there appears to have been some backdoor wrangling with the judges to get this deal to go through.
  2. The pay raise kicks off a firestorm of public outcry, especially in any part of the state that's not Philadelphia. It persists for far longer than anyone thought it would. Lawmakers are called on the carpet publically here in Western PA, and while some are defiant, most capitulate and state that they will not use the unvouchered expenses (though the pay raise would still stand).
  3. An election to reconfirm two of the State Supreme Court justices happens. This is usually just a formality - never in the history of PA has any justice not been confirmed. This time, one is booted and another one is nearly booted. This is absolutely historic and unheard of. The people have shown their displeasure and anger.
  4. Within a few weeks, the pay raise has been overturned and repealed. Lawmakers are frantically searching for any other issue to take the public eye off of them.
  5. The furor hasn't died yet. Organizations like PA Clean Sweep start up, with the goal of removing every legislator in the state (yes, this is maybe a tad extreme). PA Clean Sweep manages to bring about 80-90 (I think) candidates to challenge incumbents in the upcoming elections. Suddenly the incumbents, who in PA usually have a re-election rate over 90%, are fearing for their jobs.
  6. Lynn Swann announces his candidacy for Governor and wins the Republican nomination.
  7. During the parade and rally after the Steelers Super Bowl win, the public is heard chanting pro-Penguins slogans (like "Save the Pens" and "Mario") when Mayor O'Connor is talking.

So what does all of this mean for the Pens? It means that Governor Rendell is afraid for his job, and needs the votes in the Pittsburgh area. He's now starting to make noises about getting an arena built. He recognizes that if the Pens don't get the slots license and leave Pittsburgh as a result, his political career could suffer.

This will be interesting to see where it goes.

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