Who Should Control Purse Strings on Casino Funds?
Like suitors on Valentine’s Day, MGM and Penn National have been courting the city of Springfield with gifts, sort of the municipal version of candy and flowers: the former’s $50,000 donation to the South End Community Center’s after-school program, for instance, or the latter’s $25,000 gift to Square One daycare centers. And as the two companies set about negotiating host-community agreements with City Hall, the largess will only continue—although not necessarily the way some had expected.
As city councilors learned at a meeting yesterday, the host agreements will include lump-sum payments to the city, rather than a list of specific projects to be funded by the casino companies. As Jack Flynn reports in the Republican, a casino consultant hired by the city told councilors that “requiring a casino developer to bankroll individual projects is impractical and will not be included in the host agreement.” Instead, city officials will decide how to allocate the money from the casino developers.
That news apparently took off guard some councilors, who’d believed community groups could lobby the companies to fund specific projects. Instead, apparently, those groups will now have to lobby the mayor and councilors for a piece of the pie.
Meanwhile, at-large Councilor Tim Rooke has proposed a different idea, one that he says would eliminate the possibility of the money being used to reward supporters or support pet projects: Instead of using the casino payments to fund community groups, he’d like to see it used to reduce property taxes in the city. “The most equitable distribution of any indirect funds from a casino developer should go directly to lower the tax burden for each of the tax payers and not to special interest projects of any elected official or group,” Rooke wrote in an email after the meeting.
Sarno is now negotiating host agreements with both casino companies. Any agreement or agreements that emerge from the process will go before the City Council, and then city voters, for approval. Ultimately, the state’s Gaming Commission will make the final call—which could, of course, mean choosing one of two rival projects, in Palmer and West Springfield, for the sole casino license to be issued in Western Mass.