Thursday, January 7, 2010

Governor to Legislators: Let's Decide on Aqueduct Redevelopment

Paterson Vows Decision by Week’s End

By Patricia Adams

Gov. Paterson says he won’t wait beyond this week to choose an operator for the video gaming facility at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Paterson announced his intentions to reporters at a New Year’s open house at the Governor’s Mansion. "What I am probably going to do in the next week or so is to pick one myself and try to publicly persuade them to embrace this decision."

According to the proposal, Paterson and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate must all agree on a VLT operator. But the lawmakers have been in a stalemate for months over which of the bidders will be chosen to run the long anticipated Racino.

Paterson blames legislative leaders because they have not been able to reach a decision, while the lawmakers blame the governor for the stall in the process. Critics of the so-far failed project have much to hang their hats on. Beginning with a collapsed deal after making an initial selection of Delaware North back in October 2008, the state has continued to fall further into deficit. The expected revenue loss without a deal is $1 million per day.

Senator Joe Addabbo says he has made repeated requests to the governor’s office to make a choice. “Aqueduct is not a priority to this governor,” Addabbo said in an interview with The Forum. “There is no rational reason why a decision has not been made.” Addabbo says his criticism is based on the fact that lawmakers have had all the necessary information on bidders for six months. “We have every piece of information on the bidders to make a decision. We can’t get started without some type of decision.

Addabbo says he is frustrated over the fact that so much revenue has been lost during the standstill and that many jobs would have been created long ago to help the local economy. “The legislature must make a decision and move forward. Whoever the vendor is, we will work with them to provide the best plan for the state and most importantly for the community that surrounds Aqueduct.”

Sate Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer shares some of the senator’s concerns. “His [Paterson’s] decision is what we’ve been waiting for.” Pheffer says that although the governor, the Assembly speaker and the senate president must agree on a choice, with a preference by the governor the three heads of state will have something concrete to talk about. “What this is really about,” said Pheffer, “is agreeing on a vendor and then working to make sure they are good neighbors to the community.

No matter where opinions weigh in on the decision, one thing is for sure — every day of delay costs the state a tremendous amount of revenue. With the governor’s promised deadline within days, those who have been involved in the process hope the end is in sight.

“After a decision is made,” said Addabbo, “The winning bidder will have up to 90 days before an actual payment to the state is made.” That amount of time says the senator is dangerously close to the end of this fiscal year. “We included the $200 million dollar upfront payment from the winner in the state’s deficit reduction plan we passed in December. We need that money before the end of this fiscal year.”

Concerns at NYRA continue to grow and the agency warned last month they may not have the capital to run the Belmont Stakes in the spring if they do not start receiving revenue from the VLTs. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has since launched an audit of NYRA whom official say they hope will comply.

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