Jun. 23, 2017

House Bill Would Increase Local Accountability Regarding Gaming Fund Expenditures

The state House recently approved, and I voted for, legislation that would change the way Erie County’s share of local gaming revenues are distributed.

The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) is currently responsible for distributing approximately $4.2 billion per year in local gaming revenues. The authority has a board of directors that is not elected by or responsible to Erie County voters. It will cost nearly $650,000 to operate the ECGRA during the 2017-18 fiscal year. That is equivalent to approximately 15 percent of the amount of local gaming revenues.

Due to this and the other information below, the bill would eliminate this unelected authority and transfer to Erie County Council responsibility for distributing local gaming revenues. The question behind this issue is whether or not Erie County taxpayers should be able to hold accountable the body that distributes local gaming funds and if the current system wastes too much money.

In addition to the $4.2 million mentioned above, the ECGRA also distributes approximately $1.27 million per year in local gaming revenues to municipalities in Erie County. The process of distributing this share of the local gaming is fairly straightforward.

The ECGRA currently has three employees. The executive director receives an annual salary of $92,000. That is higher than the annual salary paid to the Erie County executive, despite the fact the county executive is responsible for hundreds of employees while the executive director of ECGRA manages only two workers.

The executive director also receives $12,700 for choosing to opt out of receiving health insurance. He receives a company car and is being compensated for the cost of tuition while he obtains a doctoral-level college degree.

ECGRA expenses also include approximately $18,000 per year for rent and $60,000 to pay for a lobbyist.

State House members – Republicans and Democrats – representing portions of Erie County worked in a bipartisan effort to create the provision in the bill approved by the House that would eliminate the ECGRA. The Erie County Council – which is elected by and responsible to voters in Erie County – would take over responsibility for distributing local gaming revenues. This would eliminate the need for the more than $600,000 in operating costs currently consumed by the ECGRA.

The legislation is currently under consideration in the state Senate.
Bill to Provide Cost Relief to Erie School District Advances

The House State Government Committee this week in Harrisburg approved legislation I introduced that would reduce costs for the Erie School District and other districts with significant financial issues.

Due to state budget constraints, school districts rarely receive as much money as they’d like. While the state can’t provide as much money as cash-strapped districts like Erie’s would like, it can help them more effectively spend the dollars they receive.

My House Bill 1479 would allow school districts that are in the state’s financial recovery system and those on a financial watch list to forego the state’s Prevailing Wage Law.

The Erie School District is on the state’s financial watch list and would qualify under my bill.

The Prevailing Wage Law sets rates of pay for some construction projects and can significantly increase costs for school districts.

The Prevailing Wage Law can add up to 30 percent to the cost of a project. My bill would ensure money can be spent more efficiently to educate our students. Every dollar a district saves through my bill would be one they could use to pay teachers or pay for band or art or music classes.

My bill now heads to the full state House for consideration.