Philly Deals: Will Pennsylvania's giveaway fund be more transparent?

Gov. Corbettgave appointees more control over who gets what under the Pa. Economic Growth Initiative.
Gov. Corbettgave appointees more control over who gets what under the Pa. Economic Growth Initiative.
Posted: June 15, 2012

Pennsylvania has borrowed more than $4 billion over the years to fund the giveaway known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, in which Pennsylvania legislators chose developers and nonprofits for matching grants for favored projects.

The Barnes museum and the plaza under Comcast's headquarters were built with RACP funds. So were parks, old folks' homes, groceries and hotels, shopping malls and condo developments, and religious, ethnic and cultural centers. Pretty random.

Gov. Corbett last week imposed a new name — Pennsylvania Economic Growth Initiative — and new guidelines that give his appointees more control over who gets what. He promised "a strategic, merit-based selection process" focused on "clear, positive economic impact" and "a priority on attracting and retaining jobs."

"Some might argue the new criteria are more open and transparent," says John Grady, president of the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development that helps administer the program locally.

Corbett inherited a list of hundreds of projects that had been preapproved but not funded by the legislature or given final confirmation by the governor's office from his predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, who expanded the program on his eight-year watch.

City records show Corbett has approved "rereleases" for dozens of projects over the last year — $18 million for the Gallery and other retail renovations on Market Street East, $9 million for the Franklin Institute, $2 million for Philadelphia University's Arlen Specter Library, similar sums for projects by developers Kenny Gamble and Bart Blatstein, among scores more.

But many projects that won the General Assembly stamp may have to reapply under the new guidelines, Corbett spokesman Erik Shirk told me.

"The big question," said Grady, "is how much money is going to be available." Scarce dollars "may force the state to be even more selective."


Tylenol-maker Johnson & Johnson used to routinely outperform other health-care stocks — but since the contamination that closed its Fort Washington pill factory until at least next year, its shares have trailed the industry average, and its old "premium" is gone, wrote stock analyst Jayson Bedford, in a report to clients at Raymond James & Associates.

Bedford is betting that will change with J&J's planned purchase, effective Thursday, of West Chester-based Synthes Inc., the bone-cement maker burned by its own human-testing scandal. Under a financing scheme that routes the purchase through an Irish subsidiary, Synthes could boost earnings as soon as this year, he wrote.

RayJay also cited J&J's drug "pipeline" — Zytiga (for prostate cancer), Invico (hepatitis), Xarelto (blood clots), plus "potential blockbuster drugs" canagliflozin (diabetes) and bapineuzumab (dementia) — as fuel for rising profits.

Tomb raid

Tom Gonzales and his son, Thomas J. Gonzales II, made a fortune from their company, Silicon Valley online-commerce pioneer Commerce One, before young Thomas' death from cancer, at 35, back in 2001, the peak of the boom.

The family memorialized him with a $3.2 million white stone tomb at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, Calif. After Commerce One's bankruptcy and sale in 2004, the father relaunched himself as a real estate developer, built an estate in Lake Tahoe that he's been trying to sell for $50 million, and sued a Silicon Valley charity over control of Thomas' estate, valued at $91 million.

But Thomas' mortal remains haven't been left in peace. In January thieves cut their way into the mausoleum and stole the gold-colored metal urn containing with the dead man's ashes.

Now his father wants the $3.2 million back. On Tuesday his lawyer, Harvey Stein, sued Oakmont Memorial Park's owner, a unit of Levittown, Bucks County-based StoneMor Partners L.P., in a California court, alleging "negligent infliction of mental distress." Plus he wants funds for another family tomb: The empty mausoleum "is a useless structure." A StoneMor spokesman declined to comment.

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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