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Cuomo: State won't fix Thruway because of Seneca casino cash holdout

A 3-mile stretch of the New York Thruway is crumbling so badly the state has cautioned people to drive 45 mph in some spots and put up signs warning of the poor conditions.

Don't expect a fix soon.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday said the state won't repair the decrepit stretch of the Thruway in Chautauqua County because it might give the Seneca Nation of Indians an excuse not to pay the $255 million in casino revenue it owes the state and local governments.

"I don't want to give them a reason to say New York breached the agreement by coming onto I-90 when they had no right to come onto I-90. That could actually jeopardize our position on the revenues," Cuomo said during a news conference in Wilson focused on fishing and tourism.

The state has not repaved the 3-mile shabby stretch between Exits 57A and 58 for years because it runs through Seneca Nation land.

Cuomo's comments explicitly tying the lack of Thruway maintenance in Seneca territory to the state's long-running dispute over casino revenue drew sharp criticism from Seneca Nation leaders.

"The governor's comments make it very clear that he is holding one issue hostage to the other," Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong Sr. shot back in a written statement.

"The only reason that the state repeatedly turns a blind eye to its obligation to repair the deteriorating condition of the portion of the Thruway crossing our Cattaraugus Territory is pure, simple political retribution," Armstrong said. "He’s playing politics with the safety of the traveling public."

Armstrong said the arbitration over the casino revenue and the maintenance of the Thruway "should be two separate issues."

The Seneca Nation in 2017 stopped paying the state 25% of the profits from the slot machines at its three Western New York casinos, asserting that its original 2002 casino compact with the state did not require payments after 2016.

A share of that money goes to the host communities for the casinos: Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

"If you talk to the local governments that need the revenues desperately, what they would say to you is, 'Don't give the Senecas an excuse where New York is in violation, and give them that excuse not to pay the money that they owe the local governments,' " Cuomo told reporters during the news conference, held in Wilson after a fishing excursion with visiting Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference Tuesday in Wilson. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Cuomo was in Wilson to discuss tourism, but took questions from reporters on a number of topics, including the Thruway condition and the Seneca dispute.

A three-member arbitration panel ruled in January that the Senecas were wrong to stop paying, and the $255 million tab was set in April. But the Senecas, instead of paying, went to federal court in an effort to try to overturn the arbitrators' decision.

"We want them to honor their part of the bargain," Cuomo said. "I'm not going to act in bad faith, even though I believe they're acting in bad faith. We're in the courts with them. When we settle the larger issue on the revenues, I believe the I-90 issue will be resolved."

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