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GORSKI BALKS AT LEASE-BACK PROPOSAL FOR RICH STADIUM

The Gorski administration is attacking the Rich Stadium lease-back proposal suggested by a top Republican county official and is preparing a report to lobby legislators against the idea.

"We think it's a very risky fiscal gimmick that could be the equivalent of asking the county to invest in junk bonds," Scott Brown, spokesman for County Executive Gorski, said Friday of the proposal to help pay for the new Buffalo Bills lease. "Instead of saving taxpayer money, it could cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples has estimated more than $12 million could be raised if the county were to lease Rich Stadium to investors and collect the money. Under one scenario, a county-state corporation then would be created that would lease it back again for the Bills.

Ms. Naples is seeking a formal appraisal of the stadium complex to help refine her proposal, saying preliminary estimates place the facility's worth at $220 million.

Her proposal and its criticism from Gorski come at a time when county lawmakers are still searching for a way to finance the estimated $5 million to $7 million annually for the county's share of a new 15-year lease with the Bills.

The Gorski administration had proposed a "sin tax" on beer, wine and cigarettes, but that proposal appears to be dead following a critical report by the Greater Buffalo Partnership earlier this month.

The Partnership report did not offer any conclusions regarding the soundness or practicality of the lease-back proposal.

Brown said the administration still would like to revive the sin tax idea in some fashion, possibly by dropping the tax increase on liquor and replacing it with an increase of what had been proposed for cigarettes from 8 cents to 14 cents a pack.

He said a cigarette tax hike would still achieve Gorski's goal of funding the stadium lease with revenues outside the general property tax. Brown pointed out that New Jersey lawmakers recently approved overwhelmingly a 40-cent cigarette tax increase on a bipartisan vote.

Ms. Naples' proposal also would saddle the general county budget with the debt of buying back the stadium lease, Brown added.

"What they want to do is take on $200 million in new and unneeded debt," he said.

Ms. Naples could not be reached to comment.

Brown also said the legality of Ms. Naples' idea still has not been proven, and the Internal Revenue Service may ultimately frown on such schemes.

"If that's the case, then the county could get caught holding the bag," he said.

Finally, Brown said the lease-back proposal would only cover the first two years of the Bills lease, leaving the county without a permanent solution.

Ms. Naples has acknowledged her approach does not cover the full Bills lease, but said it buys time for a sound, long-term solution without raising local taxes.

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