Lawmakers cite overheard costs in push to defund gaming authority –

ECGRA, which distributes a local share of gambling funds, has expenses that include a monthly retainer for a firm hired to lobby state legislators.

Nico Salvatori @ETNSalvatori

Operating expenses at the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority have been the main target of attacks by local lawmakers who want to defund the authority and give Erie County government sole authorization to distribute the local share of gambling money.

The majority of Erie County’s state delegation have said the cost of doing business at the authority is too great, while singling out expenses they said were never intended for the economic development agency when it was created nearly a decade ago.

Expenses include a monthly retainer for a firm hired to lobby state legislators, as well as funds for the authority’s executive director to obtain a doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

“This type of thing was never envisioned,” said state Rep. Pat Harkins, of Erie, D-1st Dist.

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Millcreek Township, D-3rd Dist., said he believes the Gaming Revenue Authority is the only “local share entity” in Pennsylvania with a lobbying firm.

Since September, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority has paid about $5,000 monthly to Ridge Policy Group. The firm was hired in large part to lobby Harrisburg in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that threatened the roughly $11 million of gambling funds split each year between the authority and Erie County government.

The money, made possible by Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Summit Township, has helped nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and community programs. It has also become a fixture of municipal budgets in Erie County.

“When the court ruling came down, it was a good sign that we needed to hire a lobbyist,” said Perry Wood, executive director of the Gaming Revenue

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