By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO February 4, 2005 The Sullivan County Legislature postponed its scheduled special meeting to vote on five casinos until this Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello.
The vote was delayed since most legislators had not yet seen an official copy of the proposed legislation until yesterday morning.
Governor George Pataki officially released the state legislation late yesterday, and it totals 28 pages. Most legislators had yet to begin reading the proposal as of press time.
Still, several legislators spoke of how they approached the issue. Democratic Majority Leader Kathleen LaBuda, Republican Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel and Democratic legislator Ron Hiatt all said they supported the decision announced by Chairman Chris Cunningham (D) to put off the meeting for a week, since most of the legislators had not read the proposal yet.
Gaebel and Hiatt both said they had a number of issues with the proposal for five casinos that had yet to be addressed.
Gaebels language regarding the five-casino proposal intensified yesterday, as he stated he would be real hard-pressed to deal with five casinos. In order for five casinos to work in Sullivan County, he said New York State would have to be a partner from A to Z in sharing the costs associated with five casinos.
He said he believed there was a reluctance on the part of the state to assist the county in casino-related infrastructure costs, including local roads and the thousands of new students in local school districts.
One of Gaebels foremost concerns dealt with the governors Interstate 86 proposal, which he was told would take approximately ten years. The minority leader did not see how casinos could operate while major changes and improvements are made on the highway, including the total restructuring of several bypasses and interchanges.
He once again referenced the recent improvements made to Route 17s Exit 113 last year, which caused delays of up to half an hour.
Hiatt said the most important issue is the schools, which he said are already bursting at the seams. The state will have to contribute more for future school construction and other related costs due to the thousands of new students projected to enroll there, he said.
Hiatt also said that the environmental reviews are still needed and that some of the proposed tribes have completed environmental reviews which only take into account three casinos, not five. (The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin has yet to move on any environmental assessments for its proposed casino in the Town of Mamakating.)
The legislator said he wants teenagers barred from gambling at the facilities. He said studies indicate that teenagers have a higher propensity for problem gambling. In addition, he wants to bar problem gamblers who do not meet certain financial obligations.
Finally, there are outstanding issues with local unions, which want fair labor practices in potential casinos, he said.
He introduced Jennifer Fuentes of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation (the regional arm of the AFL-CIO), who said the group supported five casinos but had a number of specific conditions that would need to be met.
The group wants to ensure that the Native American tribes, who are sovereign nations, abide by all state and federal labor laws, ranging from workers compensation to unemployment insurance.
Among the workers the union represents are teachers and civil service employees, who want to ensure that the county is fairly compensated for the range of impacts to the schools and other infrastructure which would lead to higher taxes and an increased burden on the entire public school system, if not properly compensated.
LaBuda said she opposes the plan outright, and Cunningham has been a longtime opponent of casinos. Democratic legislator Sam Wohl has been supportive of the proposal. Democratic legislator Jonathan Rouis has publicly stated he is undecided.
Sullivan County Republican Party Chairman and County Legislator Greg Goldstein said he continued to support casinos, as did Republican legislator Leni Binder. Binder continued to state that the construction of new schools could be borrowed over a long period of time, with the $15 million-a-year impact fee generated by the tribes covering those costs.
Republican legislator Jodi Goodman has not stated her decision publicly yet but said, like the other legislators, she had received approximately 700 e-mails yesterday in opposition to casinos. Ninety percent of the letters were from Sullivan County residents, she remarked.