Now Rivers Casino wants to shortchange our kids $1 million per year. What is it with these large corporations that promise to do good things for our community and then try to wriggle out of paying their fair share to support our schools?
This week, we helped to make headlines by testifying at a special County Council hearing about UPMC’s tax-exempt status and its duties as a public charity. [See “UPMC’s Fair Share”] Several news sources featured our message about the impact of UPMC’s vast landholdings on local school districts. [For some great coverage, see KDKA TV, 12-5-12 and WESA 90.5FM, 12-6-12]
In the case of the Rivers Casino, we are talking about a business that promised to bring revenue to our city and schools when it opened back in 2009. The casino made that promise in exchange for its license to operate a gambling establishment that many did not want in our fair city and on prime riverfront property. But practically as soon as they opened, Rivers Casino started petitioning to reduce their property assessment, which would directly reduce revenue for our community. In fact, between 2009 and 2012 they sought to slash their assessment by half, on average, which would have meant a loss of $3 million for the Pittsburgh Public School district alone.
Fortunately, this August the Allegheny County Court ruled against the casino. [Post-Gazette, 8-25-12] But now Rivers Casino is back at it, attempting once again to lower its 2013 assessment. If they succeed in getting the property assessed at what they claim is its current value, the result will be a $1 million loss for our schools every year. Meanwhile, the casino has taken in over $1 billion in revenue since it opened three years ago. [Opinion and Order of the Court, 8-23-12] And it wants to take money away from our children?
But wait. It gets worse. The majority owner of Rivers Casino is an investment fund managed by Walton Street Capital. This Chicago based company (co-founded by billionaire Neil Bluhm, an ally of President Obama) takes money from various sources and invests it in this particular fund, which then profits when the casino profits. Guess who sends their money to Walton Street Capital? Teachers. That’s right. According to an analysis done by UNITE HERE (the union currently organizing Rivers Casino workers), the following teachers’ pension funds have invested in this particular fund [data from Walton Street Wrecks.org]:
- Chicago Teachers Pension Fund
- Illinois Teachers Retirement System
- Indiana Public Retirement System
- New Jersey Division of Investment / State Investment Council
- New York State Teachers Retirement System
- Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL)
- Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas (TX TRS)
So, indirectly, public school teachers in at least six states own a stake in Rivers Casino here in Pittsburgh. Perhaps they will join us in calling for the casino to live up to its promises to our community.
UNITE HERE has started an on-line petition where we can join together in asking Rivers Casino to stop trying to wiggle out of its commitment to our public schools. Think about Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8, home of our very own Manchester Miracle, just a stone’s throw away from the casino and without books in its library. Please sign the petition today, and spread the word: perhaps you even know a teacher or two in one of those states listed above. After what Pittsburgh has given Rivers Casino – including a hefty piece of our beautiful skyline now occupied by their parking garage – it’s time for them to stop the legal maneuvering and pay their fair share for our kids.