ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – The state budget is now several days late, but Assemblyman Pat Burke, a Democrat from Orchard Park who serves as the Secretary of the Assembly’s Democratic Conference, thinks it will be completed either Wednesday or Thursday.
When that happens, he believes “unless something crazy happens,” state money toward a new Buffalo Bills stadium will be included in it.
“I think it’s a done deal,” Burke said Tuesday.
Last week, the Bills, State, and Erie County announced a three way agreement to fund a $1.4 billion stadium in Orchard Park. Governor Kathy Hochul agreed that the state would kick in $600 million toward construction, while the County would contribute $250 million. The public funding is expected to require approval from the State and County’s respective legislative bodies.
The combined $850 million in public funding for the stadium represents the largest public subsidy for an NFL stadium. Some lawmakers, particularly those from New York City, have been vocally opposed to the deal.
“(A)s a former athlete who deeply appreciates sports, I can confidently say it’s still not worth making horrible decisions with public money,” tweeted Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat, Tuesday morning.
But Burke says most Assemblymembers now see the money as a regional issue. He specifically referenced money that has gone to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. Last year, a $1.3 billion appropriation in the budget was set aside for development of the Empire State Complex there.
“If you have things going on in New York City or some other part of the state, don’t come to Buffalo and tell us what to do,” he said. “Don’t be condescending either. Don’t kind of dismiss us as this sort of, ‘Oh football, it’s not that important.’ So that was part of the conversation and now this is being seen by most members as just a regional issue.”
“There’s some parts of this deal that I really don’t like,” Burke admitted. “I don’t think anyone likes giving public money to billionaires. It’s not something any of us should be happy about. But keeping the Bills in Buffalo is very important to all of us. It’s central to our community. I think a deal is done there.”
On Wednesday, Kim suggested he wasn’t so sure.
“At this point, it’s on the table,” he said. “It’s not going away. So it’s a matter of whether they have the votes or not.”
Kim stressed his opposition of the public subsidy is not intended to be an insult to the people of Buffalo.
“I respect my Western New York colleagues and their sentiments for wanting to keep the stadium and the Bills in Buffalo,” he said. “And I want to achieve that same goal.”
But Kim says he believes the Bills weren’t going anywhere.
“This was unfair for the Governor to put Western New York lawmakers against Downstate,” the lawmaker from Queens said. “Because we’re not against each other. This was a tactic from the executive to implicate lawmakers in this process.”
Dating back to late 2021, Hochul has been signaling her intent to include state money for the Bills project in the budget. She has defended the deal by arguing it will pay itself off in about 22 years, mostly through players’ income taxes.
“The Bills franchise is a proven economic driver, and the economic and tax impacts generated from the team will support more than 100 percent of the public share of the new stadium,” a spokesperson for the Governor said. “This agreement secures the Bills’ long term future for decades to come while putting to work thousands of union workers in what will be the largest construction project in Western New York history.”
Hochul intends to use $418 million in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation toward the $600 million in stadium construction costs for which the state is responsible.
On Monday, the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie said the stadium issue should be viewed in the context of the entire budget, which is expected to come in at well over $200 billion.
“There are members in the conference who support it,” Heastie said. “Particularly those members who represent Upstate and Western New York. But it’s hard to say what’s going to happen with one item when I’m in the middle of talking about the entire context of all of the spending items that members of the Legislature want to see as well.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.