One of the great selling points for public money going being used to build a stadium is that, while the stadium itself will be used by teams owned by billionaires, there will be an economic impact to the surrounding community that makes the public investment worthwhile.
It doesn’t matter that this argument has been debunked for years, by everyone from Stanford University to the Brookings Institution. It’s still the argument that gets trotted out, because it’s the only argument that can possibly be used to justify tax dollars being funneled back to the ultra-wealthy for their vanity projects.
The argument is even more ridiculous for the Buffalo Bills, who play in Orchard Park, N.Y., a suburb of less than 30,000 people, 10 miles from downtown Buffalo. And the prospect of a new Bills stadium, specifically, got a look last year, with the conclusion that it would “boost the Western New York economy as much as a new Target store.”
So, why is New York Gov. Kathy Hochul reportedly on the verge of giving the OK to a plan for the state and Erie County to put up $1 billion out of the $1.4 billion needed for a new Bills stadium? Especially when the Bills are owned by the fracking tycoon Pegula family, some of the richest owners in all of sports with a net worth of $5.7 billion?
Terry Pegula’s direct political donations, as reported by OpenSecrets, are fairly sparse, with his last contribution coming in 2019 to Chris Jacobs, the Republican who represents New York’s 27th district, which includes Orchard Park, but not Buffalo, in Congress. Over the years, Pegula has mostly supported Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), former Speaker of the House John Boehner, and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Pegula also tossed $2,500 to a Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, in 2012. But his biggest expenditure in New York politics over the last decade? That would be $30,000 to Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul during the 2014 gubernatorial race.
That’s a long time ago, and $30,000 to what was really Cuomo’s re-election campaign isn’t the basis to say that Hochul is doing this as a quid pro quo for donations, with her own re-election campaign this year. But it’s what a $30,000 donation can do, opening doors and fostering connections over time to the point where the Pegulas can have a relationship with Hochul and make their case about why the state should do this, regardless of what every study on the subject has said for decades.
Could such a thing impact Hochul’s thinking? Could the fact that Hochul is such a Bills fan, she’s been quoted as crediting the experience as why “I always have an underdog mentality?”
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because as governor of New York, Hochul’s top priority needs to be doing what is best for the state of New York. Forking over a billion bucks to the Pegulas, so that they can build a new stadium where they already have a stadium, is the opposite of that, at a time when New York has a ton of worries about a post-COVID economy where the biggest city in the state (and the country) can’t say exactly what its central business districts will look like in a world where remote work has become more normalized.
There’s never a good time to give billionaires another billion. This is an even worse time, and Hochul needs to realize that as much as she might want a new stadium for the Bills, it’s the Bills who need to pay for it, not the public.