'Billionaire capitalists demanding socialist handouts’: NY gov caves to Buffalo Bills owners’ demands for new taxpayer-funded stadium

'Billionaire capitalists demanding socialist handouts’: NY gov caves to Buffalo Bills owners’ demands for new taxpayer-funded stadium

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) on Monday unveiled a budget proposal obligating state taxpayers to fund the majority of a new 60,000-seat stadium for the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. The largest sports cost-sharing agreement in American history was part of a "30-year commitment" to keeping the National Football League franchise, whose recent successes in seasonal playoffs have generated national attention toward upstate New York, in the Empire State.

"The Governor will advance a $600 million proposal in the state budget, and Erie County will contribute $250 million. The economic and tax impacts generated from the team will support more than 100 percent of the public share of the new stadium cost," Hochul's office said in a lengthy statement.

Lawmakers in Albany have just four days to review and either approve or disapprove of the governor's request.

"The deal includes a commitment from the Bills to play at the new stadium for the next 30 years. The Bills will begin design of the new stadium immediately, and all parties will begin negotiations on extending the team's current lease for Highmark Stadium that expires in 2023," the statement continued. "The stadium project is projected to create approximately 10,000 construction jobs and will be constructed using union labor in accordance with a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). The Bills will negotiate a PLA with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Buffalo, New York and Vicinity, AFL-CIO, on behalf of its affiliated local unions. The deal requires the Bills to agree to a Community Benefits Agreement, which is to be negotiated."

Once construction is completed in 2026, ownership of the complex will transfer to New York State, which will then lease it to the Bills.

"In the event the Bills default on the agreement, the State and County have the right to go to court to enforce non-relocation terms," Hochul's press release added. "The new stadium can be used for civic purposes, such as, if necessary, vaccination delivery and election operations - as well as in emergencies."

Although Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz lauded the contract as "a long-term deal that repays state taxpayers for their upfront investment," New York State did not have the upper hand in the negotiations.

The team's owner, Terry Pegula, owns multiple sports ventures and is a natural gas tycoon with a net worth of $8 billion. According to Bloomberg, Pegula had threatened to relocate the Bills to another city unless the state agreed to finance the bulk of the four-year project.

He was thrilled with Hochul's decision to bankroll his endeavor with public funds.

"We took another step today to solidify our collective goal of constructing a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. We are grateful for the time, efforts and unwavering commitment made by Governor Hochul and her team throughout this process," Pegula said. "While there are a few more yards to go before we cross the goal line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the National Football League will get us there."

The NFL, which generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2021 and enjoys tax-exempt status, was also elated.

"We are pleased with the tremendous progress that has been made on a plan that will provide Bills fans the world-class facility they deserve in western New York. We appreciate the extraordinary leadership and partnership of Governor Hochul, Senator Schumer, and Erie County Executive Poloncarz," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "We will continue to work closely with them and the Pegulas to make this exciting vision a reality. The Pegulas have continued to demonstrate their commitment to Buffalo, a market that has supported the NFL for generations. This new stadium will further provide the foundation to help the Bills remain competitive in western New York for decades to come."

Whether New Yorkers will see a decent return on their investment is nontheless uncertain.

Hochul's statement said that "the Bills generate $27 million annually in direct income, sales and use taxes for New York State, Erie County and Buffalo. These revenues will grow and will cumulatively amount to more than $1.6 billion over the 30-year lease period. Furthermore, fans who attend games from across New York, the U.S. and Canada and spend money locally that would not otherwise be spent in the region will result in an economic impact of more than $385 million annually."

But Bloomberg countered that claim, explaining that "economists who have studied public sports subsidies have found that the impact of new stadiums on the local economy is small. The benefits are exaggerated, they say, because consumers who spend money on sports would likely spend their money on other forms of local entertainment."

Bloomberg also noted that the Bills have the NFL's "second-smallest television market after the Green Bay Packers."

And while there was widespread glee among some elected officials about the deal's finalization, members of the public were far less enthusiastic.

The fact that a multi-billionaire managed to extort a massive public subsidy is not sitting well with many New Yorkers, given the palette of pressing social and economic challenges facing their state.

For example, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which provided $2.4 billion in federal funding to cover rental arrears from the COVID-19 pandemic, has stalled. Only half of that money has been distributed. The state's coffers have run dry, and because the state's eviction moratorium expired in January, hundreds of thousands of New York tenants are either in a state of limbo or facing potential eviction through no fault of their own. It should be noted, however, that pending ERAP applications are an affirmative defense in an eviction case.

Furthermore, New Yorkers, who live in one of the most expensive energy markets in the United States, face massive utility arrears as well – $1.8 billion as of January 2022 – which were supposed to be covered by ERAP. The state has sought additional money from the federal government, but to date, only a paltry $119.4 million out of the $1.6 billion requested by Hochul has been allocated.

Additionally, on Friday, CNY Central reported that "the Office of Children and Family Services is looking at an $800 million dollar cut in funding this budget cycle. In the 2021-22 budget, OCFS received $4.5 billion. Now, the cut would bring them down to $3.7 billion. That office oversees and reviews DSS and CPS agencies across New York."

Thus, Hochul's proposal sparked intense backlash on social media.

"The Governor of NY is proposing spending 850 million taxpayer dollars to help build a $1.4 billion football stadium for the Buffalo Bills. The NFL is the richest sports franchise, full of billionaire capitalists demanding socialist handouts so they can make even more profits," former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader tweeted on Monday.

Nader was far from the only voice to object to the arrangement, which some suspected comes at the expense of struggling families.

Even Bills fans were agast that such an agreement would be made.

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