US

The mess at the Billion-Dollar Stadium in New York

Budget season has finally ended in Albany, and under Governor Kathy Hochul, the state has authorized $220 billion in spending, allocating generous funding for child care and public education. Still, the budget was mostly what a centrist governor — someone with Andrew Cuomo’s politics, if not his vitriol — would have largely wanted. Hochul forced an expansion in the use of cash bail, infuriating progressive lawmakers, and refused to fund a new housing voucher program for the homeless and economic aid for undocumented immigrants. Taxes have not been increased on the rich.

Some activists and lawmakers have called it the worst budget in a decade. This is an exaggeration. But one slice of the budget, in addition to rollbacks in criminal justice reform, was particularly glaring. More than a billion dollars of public money will be committed to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

It was a favorite project for Hochul, a Buffalo-area native and ardent Bills fan. The deal itself, with the billionaire Pegula family who own the Bills, was negotiated in secret and announced shortly before the start of the new fiscal year on April 1. This was a cynical and Cuomoesque maneuver by Hochul, as she understood that approving the tax subsidy would be much easier if she incorporated it into the state budget. She figured lawmakers would be forced to approve it because too few would be willing to reject the entire budget. She was right.

In the end, the budget arrived a week late, as state lawmakers and Hochul squabbled over big policy points and debated whether they could approve the grant for the Pegulas, who had threatened to move the Bills out of Buffalo. In the end, there were plenty of Democrats in the House and state Senate to vote for the budget, with only a handful of progressives and socialists defeating it. Even Liz Krueger, a fierce opponent of the Bills deal and a state senator who chairs the finance committee, voted for the budget. Michael Gianaris, Vice President of the Senate and ally of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, did the same.

The Bills grant is the largest for a football stadium in American history. The highest figure reported in the press was $850 million, but the cost to taxpayers will be higher. First, the state will spend $600 million to cover initial construction costs. Erie County must contribute an additional $250 million. An additional $100 million over 15 years will fund stadium maintenance and repairs. A county and state authority created to oversee the stadium is to pay $180 million on the 30-year lease for capital improvements.

The Pegulas have a net worth of at least $5.8 billion, some of which could easily be deployed on a new stadium. The NFL is the richest sports league in the world. Neither deserves any welfare benefits paid by working New York State taxpayers.

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