What was supposed to be the local benefit of having the Seneca Niagara Casino in the Falls, has turned into a fight over money.
According to the compact “up to 25%” of the state’s share of the slot revenue from the casino is to go to the “host municipality.”
Gov. George Pataki’s 2006-07 spending plan however turns over the entire “host community” share of revenue from 2004, 2005 and 2006 to USA Niagara, a state agency- created by Pataki.
Pataki’s plan ignores a plan agreed upon by local officials to distribute the money to the city of Niagara Falls, Niagara County, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls International Airport and the Niagara Falls School District, and instead gives the money to the state agency in Niagara Falls which is under Pataki’s exclusive control.
The local newspapers have been less then flattering about the governor's plan.
The influential weekly tabloid, the Niagara Falls Reporter featured a lampooning cover illustration this week of Governor Pataki, in Caribbean attire, with a parrot resting on his hand; the headline reads “On the way out, lame duck Pataki gives Niagara Falls the Bird.”
The city’s daily, the Niagara Gazette wrote in an editorial last Wednesday: ”The plan is simply a cash grab by the governor and a violation of his own agreed upon compact with the Seneca Nation.“
Pataki's agency, USA Niagara has been criticized for having done little since the governor created the agency more than a decade ago. With millions spent to date by the "development" agency, the best known results have been to help create what has become a major funding drain on the city – the “Conference Center” which was drummed up to replace the much larger Niagara FAlls Convention Center which Pataki gave to the Seneca Nation for their casino, and a Third Street, “streetscape” which was a repaving project of three blocks and which cost several millions.
Not much to show for the time and money is the most heard criticizm. Most of USA Niagara’s 3 million a year or so of money annually seems to have been spent on patronage salaries and studies made by what appears to be politically connected engineering and architect firms on plans which never seem to materialize. Millions have also given to a couple of big-time developers who in the past donated handsomely to Pataki and the Republican Party.
“The local share needs to remain just that — local,” wrote the Gazette in one of its most strongly worded editorials of recent months. “It must remain under local control and be distributed locally. That doesn’t mean giving it to a state agency with a local office.”
Although it has caused a good deal of worry in Niagara Falls, it may be much ado about nothing.
However, if Pataki's plan were to go through, besides the $3 million the agency would get from Albany, it would recieve another $24 million for the last two years casino revenue which otherwise would have gone to local control - totally $27 million this year.
Pataki has made this proposal before; it was in his budget last year and every year since the casino was built. And every year, the Legislature rejected it.
However, because of political infighting in Albany, the delay is hurting a city which has yet to receive even the 2004 revenue for the casino.
Dave Staba of the Reporter wrote, "Pataki certainly isn't the first governor to treat Western New York in general, and Niagara Falls in particular, as a governmental ATM machine."
The state receives 18 percent of slot machine revenue from the casino, and is supposed to distribute one-quarter of that to the host municipality. The local share is intended, in part, to repay the city for its costs related to hosting the casino.