Silver criticizes Spitzer’s VLT proposal; Stratton likes increase in aid

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s reliance on an expansion of gambling to balance the state budget drew criticism

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s reliance on an expansion of gambling to balance the state budget drew criticism Tuesday from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who is usually an ally of the Democratic governor.

“I am always concerned by the social ills that an expansion of gambling brings,” the speaker said at a news conference. “We are concerned by talk of ‘monetizing’ the Lottery and the proposal to expand video lottery terminals to Belmont race track. Working men and women have a hard enough time making ends meet. Their government should not be tempting them to play with their limited resources.”

State budget

For answers to frequently asked questions about Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s state budget proposal, click here. To view a detailed briefing book on the plan, click here (Adobe Reader required to view file). To view other budget documents, click here.

Spitzer has proposed privatizing most functions of the Schenectady-based state Lottery to create a multibillion-dollar education endowment. The only way the plan could work is if Lottery revenue were significantly expanded.

Spitzer’s proposed budget Tuesday also called for installing VLTs at Belmont Park in Nassau County, which is one of three tracks run by the New York Racing Association, the others being Aqueduct in Queens and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, also has called for VLTs at Belmont but wants to use some of the revenue for investing in the racing and breeding industries and for economic development around Belmont.

Spitzer, however, said the $250 million raised — in what he acknowledged would be a “one-shot” of revenue — would go to help plug the projected $4.4 billion budget gap.

It is unclear how Spitzer’s initiative will influence negotiations on renewal of NYRA’s state franchise to run thoroughbred horse racing, which expired at the end of last year and is being continued on a stopgap temporary basis. VLTs have been approved for Aqueduct but are not yet installed there, and Silver said their installation at nearby Belmont would cut into the take at Aqueduct.

On other issues, local reaction to Spitzer’s budget proposal broke down along largely partisan lines. Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton, a Democrat, was happy that the governor was able to make good on promised increases in Aid to Municipalities, which for Schenectady would increase by 9 percent to $11.7 million in 2008-09. AIM would go up 7 percent for Amsterdam and 9.5 percent for Watervliet. For the Capital Region as a whole, according to the governor’s office, AIM would go up 8 percent.

Stratton also was happy about the proposed $1 billion upstate development fund, saying: “We intend to compete vigorously for that money.”

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, criticized what he said were increases in taxation and fees. “Most concerning,” he said in a statement, “the governor’s budget fails to fully honor a promise made last year to deliver real property tax relief in the form of direct rebates to overtaxed middle-class homeowners.”

That was a reference to Spitzer’s proposal to delay for one year the planned increase in the basic STAR rebate.

Cost-cutting measures in the budget include the previously announced plans to close Camp McGregor, the minimum-security adjunct to a Saratoga County medium-security prison, which will remain open. Also to close is the now-vacant Gloversville Group Home youth facility.

The governor’s new capital spending proposals in the Capital Region include $3.55 million for improvements at John Boyd Thacher State Park in Albany County, most of which would be spent on rehabilitation of a former pool area.

Saratoga Spa State Park would get $3.8 million, including $2.5 million to rehabilitate the exterior and ramps at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The SPAC work was supposed to be done last year but a tentative deal on statewide capital spending was one of several that fell apart last summer as state leaders feuded.

Spitzer’s budget also includes $2.35 million for Peebles Island Park, most of it to demolish the Bleachery building. Moreau Lake State Park would get $1.9 million, much of it for replacement of bathrooms.

Schoharie Crossing in Montgomery County would get $800,000 to help stabilize an old Erie Canal aqueduct. Johnson Hall in Johnstown would get $170,000. Thompson’s Lake State Park in Albany County would get $250,000 and Schuyler Mansion in Albany $75,000.

Although Spitzer is proposing to save $980 million in health care costs, many providers were initially supportive. The Civil Service Employees Association said it “has some serious concerns about health care funding and will be focusing immediate attention on that area.”

Spitzer said county governments would gain from state policies. His office said: “Projected savings for Saratoga County for the Medicaid cap and state takeover of Family Health Plus will total $6 million in 2008-09.”

E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy, said spending was too high and that Spitzer has been using up the $3 billion surplus left to him by the prior administration of Republican Gov. George Pataki.

Bruno also said spending was too high but declined to say where it should be cut. Silver also declined to say how he would balance the budget. He and Bruno, in their separate news conferences, said they would study it. Silver suggested that neither he nor Bruno would propose lower spending than Spitzer.

Categories: Schenectady County

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