Saratoga County

Mayor criticizes plan to cut Spa City’s VLT aid

A state plan to reduce, and possibly end, the video lottery terminal “impact” revenue given to Sa

PHOTOGRAPHER:

A state plan to reduce, and possibly end, the video lottery terminal “impact” revenue given to Saratoga Springs has come under fire by the city’s new mayor.

“Governor Spitzer’s assertion that Saratoga Springs does not deserve its rightful share of VLT funding is simply wrong,” Mayor Scott Johnson said on Wednesday.

The reduction of VLT money to Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County is part of Spitzer’s proposed 2008-09 state budget.

The city and county and a dozen other communities across the state that host gambling facilities with VLTs currently receive a percentage of the net income from the slot machines.

Saratoga Springs received $3.8 million and Saratoga County $1.3 million in 2007 as a VLT impact aid generated by Saratoga Gaming and Raceway on Nelson Avenue.

In his statement, Johnson said this impact aid is “reasonable, given the racino has grossed $135 million in 2007 and expects to exceed $150 million in 2008.”

The mayor pledged to do everything he can to see that the reduction is not included in the final version of the new state budget.

Spitzer’s proposed state budget for 2008-09 would freeze the city’s VLT aid at $3.8 million and the county’s share this year and cut the revenue in half for the 2009-10 budget year and basically end it in the 2010-11 budget year, according to Matt Anderson of the governor’s budget office.

Anderson said that last year the governor proposed that “high wealth” communities, including Saratoga Springs and some towns in the Finger Lakes region, be disqualified from receiving VLT impact aid. The state Legislature fought this, and it was not included in the final 2007-08 state budget.

“We were able to prevent that and put it back into the final adopted budget,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick.

“Impact aid is appropriate,” Reif said. He said it compensates the city of Saratoga Springs, for example, for the cost of having a gambling casino within its jurisdiction.

Johnson said the governor is underestimating costs that are incurred by having VLTs in Saratoga Springs.

He cited infrastructure issues and increased public safety concerns as reasons the funding is necessary for the city.

“It is pretty clear to me that he is playing political games with his foes, specifically, Senator Bruno,” Johnson said. Spitzer is a Democrat and Bruno a Republican.

“However, he is really playing games with the residents of Saratoga Springs,” Johnson said in a written statement.

“Thankfully, Spitzer’s budget is merely a starting point and the state Legislature will have a chance to weigh in,” he said. The state budget deadline for adoption is April 1.

Johnson said he is counting on help from the city’s three state representatives — Bruno, state Sen. Hugh Farley and Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, all Republicans like the mayor.

Anderson said the budget office maintained that the VLT impact aid is out of proportion to reality. He estimated the actual impact of hosting a gambling casino, minus the positive benefits such as jobs and spin off businesses, is only about $4 million for all the communities added to together.

Starting in the 2010-11 budget year the state, if the governor’s budget proposals are approved, would calculate the VLT impact aid based on a municipality’s actual, documented impact costs, minus the net positive benefits of hosting a racino or gambling casino, Anderson said.

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