A duo of powerful state legislators from Philadelphia rose in the House of Representatives today in defense of building casinos along the Philadelphia waterfront.
State Rep. Dwight Evans, chairman of the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee, stood Wednesday to denounce an amendment to deny casinos tax breaks that he saw as "an impediment to casinos coming online."
"It is unfair why these casinos are not online," said Evans, joined by legislator Curt Thomas, both veteran Philadelphia Democrats. "I don't believe we should stand in the way of property tax reduction or any other kind of tax reduction."
During a debate over state tax breaks --which was essentially whiling away time while leaders finalized budget details --State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, offered an amendment that would bar casinos from the city's 10-year tax abatement. Evans and Thomas saw it as a ploy by Clymer, an entrenched casino opponent, to further delay the SugarHouse and Foxwoods Casinos, which were approved by the state in Dec. 2006 but have yet to start construction on their sites along the Delaware River.
Their position stands in stark contrast to the tone taken by certain Philadelphia colleagues, including Representatives Michael O'Brien, William Keller, and Babette Josephs.
Evans and Thomas were joined by freshman Philly legislator Tony Payton, who said the casino issue could be addressed at another time -- not in a last-minute budget vote.
Their position underscores the division in the Philadelphia House delegation , where represenatives from the river wards and surrounding areas have aligned themselves with the neighbors who reject casinos. Meanwhile, Evans and other African-American politicians, looking for job creation, have quietly supported casinos, but have refrained from such speaking out as they did yesterday. It also raises doubts about support in the legislature -- from Philadelphia to Punxatawney -- for proposals from O'Brien, State Sen. Vince Fumo, and Mayor Nutter to move the casinos to the airport and further delay their construction.
Nutter has done what Mayor/Gov. Ed Rendell and former Mayor John Street failed to do -- offer a detailed plan for the waterfront absent casinos. If Nutter is to succeed, he will need support from the legislature.
Today's House session shows that he's got a way to go.