Massive potholes continue to wear on residents’ vehicles.
Blighted houses remain standing, hazards to neighbors and havens for crime.
In the months since a casino gaming revenue dispute started between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state of New York, city officials have often pointed to a lack of incoming casino cash – now in excess of $58 million – as one of the main reasons why some of the most obvious problems in Niagara Falls aren’t being addressed sooner.
Some of those same city officials are also looking to Albany, hoping state lawmakers representing the area can do something to help break the stalemate, or at least help Niagara Falls secure enough revenue to get by until the matter is resolved.
Three state lawmakers familiar with the situation say they’re already doing what they can to help the process along. They also note that the issue is complicated by a number of factors, arguably the largest of which being an ongoing arbitration process involving only the two main parties – the state and the Seneca Nation.
“We’ll continue to push,” said state Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, who insists his office has been working to help the city obtain the casino cash it is owed. “We’ve got a hurdle now with this arbitration. We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Seneca Nation stopped paying slot machine revenue to the state of New York in 2009. Once the money stopped flowing to the state, it stopped flowing to the city as well.
Nation leaders believe the state violated the tribe’s exclusive rights to operate Class III gaming operations in Western New York, including the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in Niagara Falls. They point to state-run race tracks, commonly known as “racinos,” as evidence of New York’s use of gaming devices to lure customers away from the slot machines and other games they were cleared to offer as part of the 2002 Gaming Compact.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials have suggested the nation failed to live up to its end of the deal by deciding to withhold gaming revenue payments.
While the dispute continues, host communities guaranteed a share of the slot machine take continue to wait for resolution, watching as remaining casino cash on hand slowly dries up.
So, what are state lawmakers from this area doing to push the process along?
They say there’s only so much they can do at this point, but insist they’ve been trying and will continue to do so.
Ceretto, State Sen. George Maziarz, R- Newfane, and state Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo and Niagara Falls, say they all have taken a number of measures to move arbitration forward. They say those measures include letters from their respective offices, the introduction of legislation intended to bring about a resolution to the matter and requests for bridge loans to ease the city’s financial pain.
As it stands now, bills have been introduced in both the assembly and the senate which would make it explicitly lawful for the Senecas to make direct payments to host cities. Maziarz and Grisanti are co-sponsors on the senate bill and Ceretto co-sponsored the bill in the assembly. Legislation upping the percentage of slot revenues that host cities receive from 25 percent to 50 percent was introduced in the assembly by Ceretto and in the senate by Grisanti last August, but neither of those bills have moved since being introduced.
And as far as the possibility of the bridge loan goes, Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman from Cuomo’s press office, said that there was a meeting with representatives from the Niagara falls City Council, Ceretto and Maziarz a few months ago, but they only received a formal request for the loan a few days ago.
“It’s under review,” Azzopardi said.
Howard Glaser, director of state operations, sent a letter to Robert Ordawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, stating that they can make direct payments to host municipalities last November.
“If the nation makes payments directly to the affected localities equating to the full local share of the amounts withheld from the State during pendency of resolution of our disagreement regarding slot machine exclusivity, the State would ensure, through legislation or otherwise, that any advance paid to the locality is credited against the determined obligation,” the letter says.
Azzopardi said that it would be illegal for the state to pay money to the host municipalities that it hasn’t received from the Senecas as part of the agreement.
“The unfortunate stance of the state is that if there’s no revenue, we can’t pay,” Azzopordi said. But representatives from the Seneca Nation argue that they tried for over 18 months to establish direct payments to host municipalities before voting to enter arbitration and that only after the tribal council voted to enter into arbitration did the state start talking about direct payments
“Western New York then legislators introduced legislation to permit direct payments from the Nation to the cities with appropriate credit to the Nation upon resolution of the dispute,” Porter has said in a written statement. “The Nation no longer has that option because the state moved to legalize commercial gambling without expressly protecting our exclusivity zone. That creates legal risks that require us to strictly follow the compact’s resolution process.” Maziarz said that he has, and will continue to, attempt to persuade arbitrators to consider forwarding money to the host cities while the disagreement makes its way through the arbitration process. “The city of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca are innocent victims in this dispute,” Maziarz said. “They should be paid while arbitration goes on.” “The legislature doesn’t control the process like the governor’s office can,” he added, “but I want to try to appeal to the arbitrators sense of fairness.” Grisanti’s chief of staff Doug Curella said that the only comment that they senator had was that the matter was “in arbitration.” Ceretto gave the Gazette a list of efforts that he has made to move things forward, including legislation that he has been a part of, his meetings with the governor’s office to ask for a bridge loan for the city and series of communications between himself, the state and the Senecas. “I know that this is an important issue for the city of Niagara Falls and I’m doing the best that I can for them,” Ceretto said. ”I’ve got my eyes and ears open. If anybody’s got any ideas I’m willing to listen.”
©2012 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)
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