Few question Rick Santorum’s bona fides when it comes to social conservative issues, but he’s also been touting his fiscal discipline during recent debates since his star has been on the rise. But are there a few blemishes on that record? The Washington Times busts out a report on Rick’s time in the Senate when he wound up backing a state sales tax to help cover the cost of two new sports stadiums on the taxpayer dime and the resulting fallout in GOP circles.
Even as Rick Santorum’s Iowa-caucuses boost shows signs of fading just days before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, prominent politicos in his hometown of Pittsburgh are challenging his claim to an unblemished record of fiscal integrity.
Santorum friends and former Republican associates there say that as a U.S. senator, he astonished them by lobbying for a boost in the sales tax in 11 southwestern Pennsylvania counties to pay for building a new stadium for the Pittsburgh Steelers and another new stadium for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The teams owners were threatening to move their teams elsewhere if the government didn’t give them what they demanded.
“It was a sweetheart deal for the two teams, a total taxpayer giveaway,” Larry Dunn, who was a Republican and the commission chairman of Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh.
Mr. Dunn helped lead a coalition of conservatives to defeat the proposed tax increase.
While it may not have made much hay in national circles at the time, it seems to have kicked up quite a bit of dust around the Keystone State. The backlash was apparently strong enough to provoke Santorum into writing a 1997 op-ed where he responded to what he described as the, “criticism, consternation and speculation” surrounding his position. He maintained at the time that he had not “gone soft” or become “a convert to tax and spend policies.”
If this was anything like similar situations faced by other states such as NY/NJ, Ohio and California, it’s a tricky balancing act for politicians. People love their home town sports teams and take great pride in them, so if they end up packing their bags and leaving the state, it looks bad for everyone. But those stadiums and the associated demands on public infrastructure are expensive, and teams are always looking to cut deals where they can defray some of the costs.
This doesn’t appear to be any sort of attack on Santorum coming out of left field or from anonymous sources. The Times is quoting a number of long time associates of Santorum, including prominent members of the Republican party from his home state. The only question is, will they find more where this came from? If not, a one off position of trying to keep the Steelers in Pennsylvania may not wind up being too big of a deal.