Everyone’s on the governor’s back about closing the state budget deficit.
But no one seems willing to sacrifice any of what they’ve got to get there.
One such cut Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed in his 2020 budget is removing VLT aid from 15 municipalities in eight counties. That’s aid awarded for the past dozen years to communities that host gaming facilities with video lottery terminals (VLTs, also known as casino slot machines).
If not needed by those communities, that money could instead go to education, infrastructure or other statewide needs.
But as with any time the state proposes a cut in aid, the locals fight back.
So it is with the city of Saratoga Springs and the county of Saratoga, which stand to lose $2.3 million and $755,000 a year, respectively, if the governor is successful in pulling the aid.
Everyone from the mayor to state legislators from both sides of the political aisle are banding together to ensure the city and county get to keep the money.
They all say it is necessary to offset the local taxpayer costs of hosting the casino, harness track and hotel.
The governor claims that the financial benefits of having these facilities in their communities offset the local budget impact on infrastructure and fire and police coverage, or at least don’t justify the need for additional state financial support.
So who’s right?
Does having the casino and hotel really stress emergency services and infrastructure in Saratoga Springs to the tune of $2.3 million a year?
A major roadway into the casino from outside the city is Route 9, a state road. So the city doesn’t have to maintain that. And because the casino is located near the Saratoga thoroughbred track, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, neighborhoods, restaurants and low-income housing, it’s likely the city would have to maintain the local roads anyway. And is the impact of the casino and hotel on water and sewer expenses really that high?
Maybe there are indeed specific impacts that justify the city continuing to receive the aid. Or maybe the city has just gotten used to the extra revenue over the years and doesn’t want to give it up.
On the other hand, maybe the governor has it all wrong, and the costs of hosting these facilities outweigh the benefits the communities receive from them. So maybe the aid shouldn’t be cut.
Let’s see a breakdown of costs and revenues from both sides before we decide.
If a highly successful city like Saratoga Springs and a booming county like Saratoga County can’t justify the need for the VLT revenue, there are other struggling communities and school districts that could use that money instead.
With so many needs and a $6.1 billion budget deficit, no questions should be off limits to ask, and no legitimate cuts should be taken off the table.