Bills Stadium Deal Tests Hochul's Ethics Promises and Legislature's Oversight Role
*Reposted from Gotham Gazette. Written by Ethan Geringer-Sameth. (photo: @GovKathyHochul)*
Last week Governor Kathy Hochul announced a deal to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills with hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies, and that she was planning to push it through the state budget with little time for scrutiny by the Legislature or public. It was the exact type of Albany politics many feared of the secretive negotiations with Hochul’s hometown team – and the type she promised to leave behind when she took office last year.
The new stadium deal is also the first major test of a non-binding conflicts-of-interest policy the governor signed shortly after taking office last summer. Under the policy she promised to recuse herself from state business involving the work of her husband, an executive at the company that has held the concessions contract of the Bill's current stadium for the past 30 years. But the governor did not recuse herself, instead negotiating the deal between the Bill's owner, billionaire Terry Pegula, the NFL, and the office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Hochul and legislative leaders are in the throes of negotiating a roughly $220 billion, late state budget for the current fiscal year, which began Friday, April 1. The announcement last week of the $1.4 billion Bills stadium deal, which includes $880 million in state funding and another $250 million from Erie County, has been one of several major last-minute additions to Hochul's proposed budget that have caught legislators off guard. If approved, it would be the highest direct public subsidy for a football stadium in recent history, possibly ever.
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