The Defeat of Senate Bill 306.

The City is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation, a massive steel manufacturing complex of brick buildings and blast furnaces that forged the U.S. economy. Today, Bethlehem Steel is closed, a victim of global competition and over eight years of low steel prices. The powerful furnaces blast no more, the hand crafted brick buildings stand silent against the howling wind in a place of once invincible and industrial prosperity. Massive unemployment, welfare assistance and boarded up windows serve as stark evidence of what happens when a large employer leaves town. A sad and grim reality that now exists in Berlin, New Hampshire.

Starting in 2009 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania there will be change, and for the better. In mid February executives from the Las Vegas Sands Corporation (NYSE:LVS) participated in a standing of the steel ceremony which commemorated the use of some 14,500 tons of steel that will be used to transform the Bethlehem Steel Mills into a multimillion dollar casino and tourism destination. “As we continue to forge a new legacy for this historic site, the erection of the first pieces of steel is an important milestone in the building of Sands Bethworks and shows how much closer we are to returning this landscape to its past glory.” said Executive Vice President Bradley Stone.

The Sands Bethworks project is an example of redevelopment that leads to economic development, taxbase expansion and jobs which is clearly good for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Similar million dollar redevelopment projects have been done recently in Mississippi, Colorado and Iowa.The unfortunate part of this whole discussion and point of this thread on is why this redevelopment isn’t being done in Berlin, New Hampshire? In mid February the Berlin City Council by a vote of 8-1 announced it support for Senate Bill 306 relative to allowing video gaming in Coos County, building a casino in Berlin, and establishing a fund to assist in payment of property taxes. Sponsored by Senator John Gallus and Rep. Edmond Gionet SB 306 had its first hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it opened to the ominous words of Sen. Gallus “In my lifetime, we could see Berlin as well as Groveton become ghost towns. We need a quick fix. We can’t wait any longer.” The hearing continued on and interestingly, not one individual who testified including the New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte offered any substantive financial or economic information on why SB 306 should not be passed into state law. The Attorney General also admitted after questioning by Senator Lou Dellasandro that she hadn’t even checked with Attorney Generals in states like Delaware and Rhode Island states that have passed casino gambling to see what their experiences were with casinos and legislation like SB 306. Then on March 3, 2008 the Senate Ways and Means Committee issued its committee report: Inexpedient to Legislate.

Is this an example of leadership? The Berlin City Council votes 8-1 in support of the legislation, not one opponent at the hearing provides economic or financial information and the committee votes to kill the bill. So I guess what the Senate Ways and Means Committee is saying to the City of Berlin: no taxbase, no jobs and an economy that is based upon welfare, boarded up windows and very limited opportunities at the to be built federal prison. And all for a historic city that has ploughed millions of dollars of economic value into the New Hampshire and New England economies.

The defeat of Senate Bill 306.

Steven J. Connolly