Gluttony not limited to Bills, state capital
Calamity in Albany tied to the turmoil with a disgraced Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin and a failed Court of Appeals ruling that went against the Democrats regarding the Congressional districts could not keep the sun from shining in Buffalo during the governor’s visit earlier this week. Hometown proud Kathy Hochul arrived in the Queen City bearing more gifts than an expectant mother receives at her first baby shower.
Money is definitely no object when it comes to appeasing the region’s largest counties in Erie and Niagara. In all, Hochul outlined more than $2 billion in funding alone for arts and cultural attractions that include Kleinhans, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Buffalo Zoo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, creating a Hispanic Heritage Center in Buffalo, establishing the Niagara Falls Agritourism Sector and a $25 million investment in the Niagara Falls waterfront.
Nothing, however, compares to the $600 million state hand-off to one of our greatest identities and passions: a new $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
As part of the massive Orchard Park endeavor, the joint public-private agreement ensures the team remains in the state for the next 30 years.
“This is important,” Hochul said. “And I love the fact that this is the largest construction project in Western New York history with 10,000 union jobs. Let’s hear it for the men and women of labor. … I also want to say this is going to ensure that our children’s children will be able to watch the Buffalo Bills. And I say that because I’m on baby watch right now, not me. My first grandchild is born any minute and I look forward to being able to take grandbabies to Buffalo Bills games as well.”
A Siena poll done this week shows many are not as exuberant. Overall, state respondents were critical of Hochul and 63% disapproved of the stadium funding.
Big-ticket items, especially those involving an already wealthy professional sports entity controlled by billionaire owners Terry and Kim Pegula, deserve plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking. But no state politician — Andrew Cuomo before Hochul — wants to be tied to a community’s pride and joy leaving town and likely never returning.
Larger cities, including St. Louis and Oakland, have watched their teams move to major markets where profits come in barrels due to the flush corporate dollars. Buffalo is the second-smallest market for a National Football League team. Its earnings, for all intents and purposes, are pint-sized compared to Dallas, Seattle or even Denver.
That $600 million investment coming from Albany, however, is hardly a jolt on the Empire State budget Richter scale. In a spending agenda that tops $221 billion, the cash set aside for the new Bills’ facility represents only 0.3% of the expenditures.
What also should be noted is the lack of prominence for Chautauqua County when it came to Monday’s press conference and media briefing. Only one project, $41.8 million to rehabilitate three bridges carrying Interstate 86 over Chautauqua Lake in the town of North Harmony, received mention.
Some of that slight has to do with the stranglehold Republicans have on this county at the moment. Only Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas and Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist hold significant offices as Democrats. More prominent leadership here is under the discipleship of the elephant.
Dominance in this state remains solidly along blue lines. Hochul, however, has been feeling the heat. Troubles getting this budget passed on time and a connection to the dubious duo of Cuomo and Benjamin could come back to haunt her at election time.
Republicans have been frothing and in attack mode since the new year. Whatever honeymoon Hochul had when taking office has turned into a constant quarrel.
Some of this is her making — especially with the budget — while another component comes from just overseeing a state that relies on the behemoth New York City economy to allow for an upstate landscape of too many governments and school districts.
If you think the state subsidy for the Bills is unacceptable, consider the money taxpayers fork over for one county, two cities, 27 towns, 13 villages and 18 school districts. Those 61 entities cost more than $600 million annually and create a heavy local tax burden.
It is important to note, since we’re always so critical of how New York and Washington spend tax dollars, that residents and elected officials here at home have very little interest in controlling future costs. As inflation continues to run rampant, these local entities won’t be aiming to ease the burden on their constituents. Just like the wealthy football teams and billionaires, they will be looking for increased support from taxpayers.
John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to email@example.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.