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Arena Bailouts

In Pittsburgh:

Add $5 million to the money Pennsylvania is giving toward Pittsburgh's pricey Uptown hockey arena.

This time, it isn't site acquisition or construction cost overruns, but a shortfall that occurred when interest on variable rate bonds soared last fall after credit agencies downgraded the bond's insurer, Financial Security Assurance Inc.

That left the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which is building Consol Energy Center, with an extra $5.08 million bill and no money to pay it.

The state, which agreed to give about $40 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Budget grants to cover site acquisition and extra construction costs for the $325 million arena, will tap a different account for this bailout. Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget would appropriate $5.08 million from the Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund for the bond bailout.

The bailout has generated little public discussion. It was buried in Rendell's proposed 2009-10 budget, with little to indicate the money would pay for arena bond shortfalls.

In Jacksonville:

As speculation over a possible Jacksonville Jaguars exit builds, the city has identified about $5 million a year that can be used to pay for needed maintenance at the Sports Complex — primarily Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

City Council President Richard Clark said Tuesday evening he’s planning on introducing a bill that will redirect bed tax money now going to the Prime Osborn Convention Center to the city’s three major sports and entertainment venues.

With the convention center debt scheduled to be paid off in October, Clark will propose that the money going to the Prime Osborn instead go to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, Veterans Memorial Arena and the stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The Jaguars are an enormous economic driver in this city, and we owe it to them as much as we owe it to the taxpayers who own the stadium,” Clark said.

Every Jacksonville hotel bill generates six cents on the dollar for three funds: two cents go to the Sports Complex; two cents go to the Tourist Development Council; and the rest goes to the convention center.

Five million a year may seem like small potatoes, but I keep reading that state and local budgets are in shambles. And the details in these stories suggest that taxpayers may well be on the hook for additional liabilities in the future.

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