Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today notified VisitPittsburgh that her office will withhold nearly $682,000 in County funding, pending VisitPittsburgh’s release of information regarding the process used to determine the allocation of $25,000, and possibly up to $50,000, to Mayor Peduto’s “Undercover Boss” episode appearance last month. VisitPittsburgh receives a portion of the County’s hotel tax revenue, which provides more than 80 percent of VisitPittsburgh’s annual operating budget.
“I remain concerned regarding the representation that no public money would be used,” Wagner said. “VisitPittsburgh runs on public money. Moreover, there remains a lack of transparency regarding VisitPittsburgh’s commitment of these funds. At a minimum, the public deserves to know which criteria were used to determine the allocation of this money.”
VisitPittsburgh’s $11 million budget is funded mostly by taxpayers, as it receives a monthly allocation of the hotel tax funds collected by Allegheny County. When someone stays at a hotel or motel in Allegheny County, a seven percent tax is applied to the cost, which is collected by the County, as dictated by State law. VisitPittsburgh receives more than a quarter of hotel tax collections to generate “convention, trade show and leisure travel business for the Pittsburgh region,” according to its website. In 2014, the organization received $8.4 million, which does not include the $681,744.44 being held.
Last month, Mayor Peduto, an honorary member of VisitPittsburgh’s Board, appeared on CBS’ reality television show “Undercover Boss” and promised $155,000 to four City employees for school tuition, mortgage payments and startup costs for a new church in the city, and indicated publicly that no public money would be used. However, it appears he asked VisitPittsburgh to contribute $25,000 toward the gifts, and the organization agreed, and recently asked for an additional $25,000, which the Board plans to vote on next month.
Wagner notified Craig Davis, VisitPittsburgh’s president and CEO, today that she is withholding the current $681,744.44 disbursement, pending answers and clarification, and requested a meeting with Mr. Davis and the Board Chairman by Friday, February 6.