Lest we forget: New Era editorialized against State hotel subsidy

Folks, that’s right! The New Era wrote an editorial that said, in part, “But $10 million is not a grant. It is a windfall. It is a lottery jackpot. It is an unconscionable amount of money for one facility in one city.”

Oops, that was the year before their bosses started pushing for their own largess that would make that 10 million look like a pittance!

Here is the complete editorial:

LANCASTER NEW ERA (LANCASTER, PA.) January 14, 1997, Tuesday

It’s old news that Gov. Robert Casey, on his last day in office, signed over millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to his home town friends and political supporters. The going-away gifts that he used your money to buy included a downtown hotel and conference center in his hometown ($10 million); a Lackawanna County visitor center ($1 million), and an arena in a Luzerne County business park ($1.2million).

Two interpretations have been made of his largess: (1) that thegovernor used the power of his office to give a figurativenose-thumbing to the rest of Pennsylvania; (2) that the governor courageously provided one final economic boost to an area ofPennsylvania that has been struggling to revitalize itself.

An argument could be mounted for answer number 2, but the facts that the governor waited until the final day in office to sign the give away and that the money was targeted for his home area are convincing evidence for the nose-thumbing.

Now, years later, his give away is the center of a controversy in – of all places – his hometown of Scranton.

Specifically, the $10 million he designated to turn a derelict Scranton hotel into a downtown conference center/hotel is being attacked by other hotel owners in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

Their protests make sense. How can they compete, they ask, with a hotel that is being infused with $10 million of public funds? How can they pay the going rate for renovations in their own hotels, and pass those costs to customers, when the operators of Casey’s project don’t have to worry about recouping their renovation costs?

Of course, one purpose of state grants is to help boost downtowns inPennsylvania cities. Lancaster is hoping to obtain a small grant to help change the vacant Bon-Ton building into a branch of Harrisburg Area Community College.

But $10 million is not a grant. It is a windfall. It is a lottery jackpot. It is an unconscionable amount of money for one facility in one city.

If the convention center is built with that grant, we have no doubt it will be filled with tourists from Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. Thanks to Congressman Joseph McDade and former Gov. Casey, the Scranton area has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in public funds. If for no other reasons, tourists will flock there just to visit their money.

As for the other hotel owners who have to deal with unfair competition….well, they can join the rest of us on the other side of that nose-thumbing.

(Editor’s note: The Scranton hotel referenced above has been in economic trouble on the market place virtually from the time it opened its doors.)