A delay at the State Capitol in approving the Buffalo and Niagara Falls casino plans could cost the measure support from members of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Gov. George E. Pataki warned Friday.
Engaged in a war of words with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, over the casino proposal, Pataki would not say if -- as Silver wants -- he will submit for state legislative approval the final casino compact he plans to negotiate with the Senecas.
But he made it clear that, given the complexities of the casino talks, there is little room for lawmakers to insert their demands into legislation that would permit Pataki to negotiate and sign a final casino compact with the Senecas.
Saying the casino plan has the backing of the Seneca leadership, Pataki voiced concerns about the Seneca membership, which is scheduled to vote on the casino issue Aug. 7.
"I believe the (Seneca) Council believes they have the support now of the people to get the referendum. That might not be the case in a month, two months, three months from now," Pataki said.
Less than an hour after the measure was announced June 20, the State Senate OK'd legislation allowing Pataki to sign a compact with the Senecas and a provision to decriminalize slot machines.
So far, the state and the Senecas have signed only a memorandum of understanding for casinos to be located in downtown Buffalo, Niagara Falls and an undetermined Seneca reservation site; the memorandum contains far fewer details than will be in a final compact.
Silver has accused Pataki of trying to get the Legislature to give him "a blank check." He has said there are a number of holes in the deal, including its failure to address Grand Island land claims, how much of the state's revenue-sharing arrangement with the Senecas will be steered to local governments that must provide services for the casinos, and a host of other legal issues.
Asked if he plans to submit the compact to the Legislature and if it could change the deal he made with the Senecas, Pataki said, "Obviously the Legislature always has the constitutional ability to make changes or do whatever they believe is appropriate." He did not say whether he'd submit the final compact to the Legislature for approval.
s Seneca Nation President Cyrus Schindler issued a statement Friday: "We have every confidence that the Assembly will act soon, paving the way for the successful passage of the Aug. 7 referendum. However, any unnecessary delay threatens the 8,000 jobs that this agreement will mean for Western New York and this important economic development for the Seneca Nation."
The governor also appeared to dismiss the "blank check" claims by Silver. "It still has enormous safeguards for them. I can't spend a nickel of money or do anything with the revenues without the approval of the Legislature," he said.
Silver, who could not be reached to comment Friday, has suggested the casino measure is a budget issue because it includes at least $800 million in revenues for the state over the life of the 14-year agreement with the Senecas. Democrats say some of the casino money could be used to get Albany out of its fight over how much money should be spent on education and other programs in the coming years.