Moody’s: Casino Win A ‘Credit Positive’ For Host Communities

Winning a bid to host a casino resort is a “credit positive” for the host municipalities in upstate New York, a Moody’s analysis released on Friday found.

Nevertheless, there is a note of caution from the credit-rating agency: Given the troubles of the gambling and casino industry across the country, the long-term benefits of the projects could be “muted.”

The state’s gaming facility location board on Wednesday awarded casino licenses to project bids in Sullivan County, Schenectady and the town of Tyre in Seneca County.

Moody’s points to the revenue and job creation expected to be generated by the projects.

The counties hosting the casino resorts will receive “host fees” with $14.7 million going to Sullivan, $13.1 million expected for Schenectady and $6.9 million going to Seneca County.

The towns and nearby school districts will be in line for smaller amounts.

Moody’s also expects the host municipalities to see increases in local property tax bases driven by the new construction and the growth in sales revenue

Moody’s says the outlook on the gaming industry in the United States writ large is negative due to weakening revenues, lower demand and high fixed costs — suggesting the long-term impact in New York from casino revenue may be elusive.

“Gaming revenues, particularly outside of Las Vegas (Aa2/stable), are down in areas across the country and it remains to be seen if the estimates provided by the Gaming Commission and the casino companies themselves come to fruition. Significant increases in traffic and tourism will likely require an additional police presence. Host municipalities may also need to improve existing infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, in order to accommodate increases in traffic.”

Libous Seeks 4th Casino License for S. Tier

From the Morning Memo:

Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, is among S. Tier residents reeling from this week’s news that the region lost out on two badly needed potential local job creators: Fracking and a casino.

Appearing on CapTon last night, Libous said he is “fired up” over the decisions. While a fracking ban seems definitive and difficult to challenge – though there is some talk of lawsuits, as Cuomo predicted – Libous does see a remedy for the casino situation.

“We’re not happy; there’s a lot of disappointed and angry people here, and I’m trying to figure out what our next step is,” the senator said.

“I’ve got my people looking to see if we can do something with that fourth license that wasn’t given…it would make sense to me that we might have an option at that,” Libous, the second most powerful GOP member in the Senate, continued.

“…It would be my goal to get local leaders together, and try to see if we can’t get that local license.”

“They said they would grant four, and the one in Seneca County is 120 miles away from us. I think it would be great if we could get that license, and that’s what we’re going to try to do. That’s the most realistic approach right now.”

Libous declined to blame Cuomo for the Gaming Facility Location Board’s decision, which he called “flawed” and “bad”, saying the casino legislation was purposely designed to prevent either the governor or lawmakers from influencing the process.

“Whether the governor had any input in that, that’s something you’d have to ask him,” said the senator, who has long maintained a close relationship with Cuomo (the governor even attended the senator’s son’s wedding in 2013).

“I don’t believe he did….the siting commission made a mistake. That’s what happened, and I’m not happy with their decision.”

Libous said that if the fourth license was awarded to Tioga Downs, a new casino would be up and running there within six months – faster than any of the other facilities that received licenses will be opening their doors.

Tioga Downs owner Jeffrey Gural was furious over the fact that the S. Tier was passed over for a casino in favor of Tyre in the Finger Lakes, and he was not shy about making his views public.

Libous plans to hold a press conference at 11 a.m. this morning to make his call for the fourth license public. But he may be tilting at windmills.

After the casino decisions were announced Wednesday, Gaming Facility Location Board Chairman Kevin Law was asked whether it was possible to go back and recommend a fourth license down the road.

Law responded: “We actually spent time really trying to figure that out. Do we want to say three at this time and maybe we’ll pick a fourth? No.”

“We reached a unanimous consensus that these three selections that we made have the best shot for success,” Law added. “There shouldn’t be a fourth.”

Also, during a stop in Sullivan County on his casino victory tour yesterday, Cuomo said he did not “anticipate” doing any more licenses.

The governor said he wants to make sure the casinos given the green light succeed and don’t have to worry about additional competition – other than what already exists in an increasingly crowded (and, from a national standpoint, troubled) gaming landscape.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will meet with members of the Justice League NYC, which has been organization protests following the Eric Garner grand jury decision. This meeting will be closed press.

At 8 a.m., ahead of a NYC Board of Correction public hearing, advocates of jail reform will hold a rally to protest the proposed creation of Enhanced Supervision Housing Units, 455 1st Ave., Manhattan.

At 10:10 a.m., state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will be Sen. David Carlucci’s special guest on the “Albany Report” radio show, exclusively on WRCR 1300 AM.

At 10:30 a.m., former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani makes his annual visit to Hale House Mother Hale Learning Center; 154 W. 22nd St., Manhattan.

At 10:40 a.m., US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will tour the Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the SUNY Cobleskill with President Debra Thatcher, culinary students, and instructors, 114 Rockland Lane, Cobleskill.

At 11:30 a.m., the Thruway Authority board meets at its headquarters to approve its 2015 budget, 200 Southern Blvd., Albany.

At noon, the Assembly will hold a joint public hearing to examine the adequacy of the fee schedule for medical provider reimbursement proposed by the Workers’ Compensation Board to be used under both the workers’ compensation system and the no-fault system and to determine its impact on access to quality treatment and return to work rates, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

At 2:10 p.m., de Blasio speaks at the NYPD Promotions Ceremony, 1 Police Plaza, Manhattan.

At 5 p.m., a pro-police rally (and potential counter-rally) take place, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

Headlines…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired the first salvo in what’s shaping up to be a contentious battle over education reform, signaling he plans to push next year for sweeping changes – like making it easier to fire low-performing teachers and increasing the number of charter schools.

Cuomo made his intentions clear in a letter to the Regents chancellor and outgoing state education commissioner. NYSUT slammed the governor’s questions and the letter’s overall tone as showing “ignorance about what parents want and the real issues facing public education.”

Gerald Benjamin, director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz, said it was unusual for the governor to release such a letter publicly rather than communicating privately with legislative leaders. “He’s playing hardball.”

DFS Superitnendent Ben Lawsky said he would ease record-keeping requirements in the state’s proposal for a virtual currency licensing regime and provide a transitional license for startups, but concerns remain that the final rule will set too high a bar for anti-money laundering compliance.

New York landowners blocked from cashing in on the natural gas boom by the state’s just-announced fracking ban may fight back in court, but experts say energy companies are unlikely to spend their money and time on lawsuits when they’ve already lost their investments.

Cuomo defended the state’s decision, saying it wasn’t worth jeopardizing the public’s health for the jobs the drilling could create.

Though he said he had nothing to do with the selection process, Cuomo took a mini victory lap yesterday of counties that won the casino sweepstakes. (Bad weather kept him from making it to Seneca County).

Southern Tier residents are reeling from the one-two punch of no casinos and no fracking. “The casinos went down, fracking went down – come on; this place is dead in the water now,” said Binghamton resident Pat Shea. “This whole area was thumbed at, snubbed, like it was nothing.”

It’s a totally different situation in the Catskills, where Monticello casino boosters are celebrating after winning one of the three upstate license recommendations announced this week.

Bob McManus: “The fruits of Andrew Cuomo’s first term went on display one after another this week — and what a withered bunch of grapes they turned out to be.”

State legislators, highway officials and even those stuck on highways for 30 hours during the November snowstorm in Western New York are expected to participate in the state Thruway Authority’s self-review of its performance now underway.

Federal prosecutors plan to sue New York City over widespread civil rights violations in the handling of adolescent inmates at Rikers Island, making clear their dissatisfaction with the city’s progress in reining in brutality by guards and improving conditions at the jail complex.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first-year agenda has faced next to no resistance in the City Council, a feat some say is inextricably linked to his successful effort to install his choice for council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Police precincts across NYC are reportedly calling off their planned annual festivities because they can’t afford to take officers off the street while protests against police brutality continue to crop up almost nightly.

An organizer at NYC’s largest union, SEIU, surrendered to cops and was charged with busting an NYPD lieutenant’s nose during a videotaped mob attack on the Brooklyn Bridge.

More >

Siena Poll: New Yorkers Back AG As Special Prosector

A majority of New Yorkers support giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the power to investigate other instances of police brutality, a Siena College poll released on Friday found.

The poll found that by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin, New Yorkers would back giving Schneiderman the power of special prosecutor to probe other instances of police brutality after a grand jury chose to not indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“A majority of Democrats, independents, voters from every region and race agree that the Attorney General and not local district attorneys should have authority in cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police officers, although Democrats, New York City voters, blacks and Latinos feel most strongly about this,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said. “Only majorities of Republicans and conservatives think people of color are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. Two-thirds of Democrats and a plurality of independents disagree, as do a majority of downstaters, particularly New York City, and people of color. Whites and upstaters are closely divided.”

Scheniderman this month requested Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue an executive order granting him the special prosecutors role.

So far, Cuomo has said he’s reviewing the request, but raised questions with how broad the scope of those investigative powers should be.

The poll found that 55 percent of New Yorkers believe the grand jury should have made an indictment in the case, which has set off a wave of protests across the country and sparked a discussion over criminal justice reform legislation at the state level.

Meanwhile, most New Yorkers 52 percent to 35 percent believe the state’s criminal justice system does not treat people of color fairly.

Broken down politically, Republican voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe the grand jury was correct in not indicting Garner.

“Similarly, large majorities of Democrats, New York City voters, blacks, Latinos and younger voters want the Feds to bring civil rights charges, while Republicans are opposed, and upstaters, suburbanites, white and older voters are closely divided,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo himself has suggested he will push for a variety of criminal justice reforms, including greater transparencies for grand juries as well as strengthening police training and requiring some officers to wear body cameras.

The governor’s administration this week moved to ban hydrofracking in the state, but the poll found New Yorkers remain divided on the natural gas drilling issue.

Thirty-eight percent of voters say they are opposed to fracking, while 35 percent of those polled back the drilling method.

“Fracking has closely divided New Yorkers for several years. And while it has the intuitive partisan divide with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting, from a regional perspective the results might be a little counterintuitive as New York City and upstate voters narrowly oppose fracking and a plurality of downstate suburbanites support it,” Greenberg said.

Similarly, New Yorkers are split on the DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers back the measure, while 48 percent do not. Cuomo will likely once again be under pressure from liberals in the Legislature to include funding for the DREAM Act in his state budget proposal.

A broad majority of New Yorkers continue to support Cuomo’s two-year-old gun control law known as the SAFE Act, but they are split along partisan lines.

By a margin of 58 percent to 33 percent, New Yorkers back the law, which Cuomo has said remains a significant legislative achievement for him.

The measure has the support of 69 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents, 67 percent of voters from New York City and 61 percent from the downstate suburbs. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans oppose the law.

And not surprisingly, there is widespread opposition to a pay raise for state lawmakers: 63 percent of those polled do not believe the Senate and Assembly should receive their first salary increase since 1998.

That sentiment cuts across party, geographic, gender and ideological lines.

Cuomo has said he is sympathetic to lawmakers who are pushing for the pay hike from the current $79,500, but has sought to have them enact sweeping ethics and campaign finance legislation, including the creation of a system of public financed campaigns and curtailing outside income.

For now, there has been no significant move to have lawmakers return to Albany in a special session to take up that legislation and vote themselves a raise.

The Siena College of 639 voters was conducted from Dec. 11 through Dec. 16. It has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

SNY1214 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Extras

BuzzFeed will receive a $4 million tax break from the state to expand its Manhattan offices.

…The announcement comes on the heels of news that Buzzfeed has signed one of the year’s biggest leases in Midtown South, which has increasingly become a focal point for NYC’s tech and creative industries.

When it came to siting upstate casinos, the Gaming Facility Location Board played it safe.

PBA President Pat Lynch told officers to use “extreme discretion,” in response to what he said was a lack of support from City Hall and Washington after the Eric Garner grand jury decision.

Lynch also said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio “thinks he’s running a f@#$ing revolution,” and called a protest of the Garner decision by black congressional staffers “stupid S@#!.”

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, called off an anti-de Blasio press conference after the DOE agreed to find space for her network of expanding charter schools.

Seventy-six percent of New Yorkers disagree with de Blasio’s quest to ban horse-drawn carriages from Central Park, a Q poll found.

PETA named de Blasio its “person of the year.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Lyme bill into law.

He also vetoed a bill that would have put a halt to state plans to eradicate a species of swan.

There will be no toll increase involved when the Thruway Board meets tomorrow to approve the 2015 budget.

Richard Nixon Nixon’s grandson, Christopher Cox, and his wife, Andrea Catsimatidis, heiress to the Gristedes supermarket fortune, are getting a divorce.

…and also, this.

The governor is holding an open house at the executive mansion on Dec. 31 instead of New Year’s Day. Tickets are available through a lottery.

“When I visit New York, I often get a headache from all the pollution. I notice that the governor hasn’t banned the use of cars.”

The four-year graduation rate for New York City students entering high school in 2010 reached 64.2 percent - a small uptick from 61.3 percent the previous school year.

Statewide, a total of 76.4 percent of students who started high school in 2010 graduated before June 2014 – up slightly from the 74.9 percent in 2009.

Rush Limbaugh thinks Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would be the perfect ticket for 2016.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson phoned Clinton recently to tell her to run for president again. (He expects his state to “decide the nation” in the race).

A Clinton adviser recently met with the head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the liberal issues group most closely affiliated with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Grant Loomis, the deputy chief of staff for Rep. Chris Collins, has been named as the new vice president of government affairs for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Former Gov. George Pataki thinks the NYPD is the best police department in the nation.

Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Released

The state released a package of proposed regulations for its medical marijuana as Cuomo administration officials acknowledged the federal government denied a waiver that would have been able to bring medical pot in from other states.

At the same time, state officials said they were on track to have the full program up and running by January 2016.

Medical marijuana advocates have been pushing the state to adopt emergency regulations for the program in order to bring relief to patients, such as children suffering from seizures, who badly need the drug.

However, state officials said it was legally viable to bring in medical pot, based on a U.S. Department of Justice determination. A small pilot program is being put together to provide access to medical institutions, meanwhile.

The regulations, which will be included in a public comment period before being formally adopted, will bar medical marijuana dispensaries from being placed within 1,000 feet of a school or a church.

It remains for now unknown how much medical marijuana will cost patients. The price will be determined by the state Department of Health’s commissioner who will consider a variety of market-related factors.

The regulations are being considered after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a medical marijuana program in June which vests control over the program in the executive branch.

Cuomo has said that key to his agreement to the program’s creation is what amounts to a “kill switch” that would end the program if there were illegalities or other issues.

The program does not allow patients to smoke the drug.

Patietns who suffer from illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and HIV qualify for the program.

Meanwhile, administration officials seemed to be backing away from including food in the medical marijuana program, but would allow the drug to be inhaled through vaporization.

Up to five firms will be given licenses to grow, manufacturer and dispense medical marijuana, with each being allowed to run up to four dispenaries around the state. It is not clear where those dispensaries will be, though officials talk of allowing for geographic balance.

Regulations by Nick Reisman

Teachers Unions Slam Cuomo Letter (Updated)

The unions that represent teachers in New York City and statewide blasted a letter sent by one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides that pledged to include education reform measures in the state budget.

The letter, sent to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Department of Education Commissioner John King, raised the possibility of a variety of major changes to the state’s education system, including raising the cap on charter schools, vesting more control of the education system in the state in the governor’s office and making changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

In a statement, Karen Magee, the president of the New York Stated United Teachers union called the letter “clueless.”

“The governor says he wants to put students first,” Magee said. “If that were even remotely true, he would listen carefully and act on the advice of the real experts — parents, educators and students — about what’s best for public education,” she said. “Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works. If the governor wants a battle, he can take the clueless New York City billionaires. We’ll take the parents, teachers, higher education faculty and students in every ZIP code of the state.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who has worked closely with Cuomo in the past, also slammed the letter.

“This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education “reform” has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign,” Mulgrew said. “The Governor owes these people big time, but unfortunately the children of New York will end up paying his debts.”

Regardless, Cuomo seems girding for a major battle next year when it comes to overhauling the education system in the state, putting the changes in the budget proposal, where he has the maximum leverage.

Cuomo addressed the letter when he was Schenectady earlier today, indicating he was frustrated with what he sees as a lack of progress on education issues.

“Give me the answers publicly and let’s discuss them,” Cuomo said. “I wish I could say I run education in this state, I don’t.”

Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa responds.

“New York state spends the most money per pupil, while continuously ending up in the middle of the pack on results,” she said. “It is mind-boggling that asking questions to start a dialogue on improving our public education system would provoke a hostile response, unless you view your responsibility as protecting a broken status quo at the expense of New York’s children.”

Cuomo: I Won’t Risk Health For Jobs

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his administration’s plan to prohibit hydrofracking, saying on Thursday he did not want to put public health at risk in exchange for job growth.

The ban on the controversial natural-gas drilling process, announced Wednesday at the governor’s cabinet meeting in Albany, appeared to be a double hit on Binghamton and the state’s Southern Tier, where natural gas is especially rich as the area also failed to win a casino resort license bid.

Cuomo said that there isn’t another governor “in the history of New York has worked harder for jobs in upstate New York.”

However, Cuomo said he’s not willing to take the chance of impacting public health negatively.

“I am not going to put the health at risk for jobs,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to make that choice. I’m not going to make it in the Southern Tier, I’m not going to make it anywhere in the state. I believe we can have jobs and they can be in healthy communities and we don’t have to run the risk of hurting our children or creating health hazards.”

The long-awaited Department of Health review determined the evidence was too conflicting to determine whether fracking could be conducted safely in New York.

Cuomo said acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker saying that he would not want his family living in a community that allows high-volume fracking was “especially sobering.”

“Frankly, that is enough for me,” Cuomo said. “If the state health commissioner doesn’t want his kids living there, then I don’t want to my kids living there, then I don’t want any New Yorkers’ kids living there.”

Unemployment In NY Ticks Downward

Unemployment in New York fell from 6 percent to 5.9 percent last month, the lowest level since September 2008, the state Department of Labor on Thursday announced.

Still, New York’s unemployment remains slightly higher than the national average, 5.8 percent, which is falling at a faster rate since the formal end of the economic recession.

New York City’s unemployment rate is also remains higher than the rest of the state, but continued to fall: 6.4 percent in October, down to 6.3 percent last month.

The state outside of the five boroughs has an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.

“In November 2014, the unemployment rates in both New York State and New York City continued their recent downward trend, reaching their lowest levels in more than six years,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics in a statement.

Nevertheless, private-sector jobs in pockets of the upstate region show either flat job growth or job reductions including Glens Falls, Syracuse and Utica-Rome areas.

In the Binghamton area, where the state Wednesday declined to grant a casino application and also announced a ban on hydrofracking, the area report a net increase of 500 jobs in the last 12 months.

Cuomo Pledges Education Reform Package In 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will introduce a package of education reforms in his 2015-16 state budget proposal with an eye toward overhauling the state’s teacher evaluation system, boosting student performance and strengthening charter schools, according to a letter released today.

The letter, signed by state Director of Operations Jim Malatras and sent on Thursday to outgoing Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, has the Cuomo administration doubling down on the governor’s push to end what he has called the “public monopoly” of education.

The letter ostensibly is the administration seeking input from King and Tisch on what reforms they would propose for the governor to deliver in the State of the State, due to be given next month.

But list of 12 questions aimed at Tisch and King give an indication of what direction Cuomo is headed in:

  • The governor is deeply skeptical the current teacher evaluation system is accurately measuring performance given less than 1 percent of teachers are deemed ineffective,
  • Cuomo raises interest in increasing the state’s cap on charter schools
  • The letter raises the potential for teacher recertification and finding ways of removing teachers who are performing poorly more efficiently
  • Asks about the existing mayoral control of New York City schools, due to expire next June and what changes should be made
  • Merging and consolidating school districts is raised as a potential reform to combat declining enrollment in some districts
  • And Malatras raises questions about the Regents appoints process, seemingly suggesting an eye toward assuming more control over the department.

That public monopoly language is recalibrated somewhat in the letter from Malatras, but nevertheless makes clear Cuomo is growing impatient with a lack of progress on education.

“Several weeks ago Governor Cuomo said that improving education is thwarted by the by the monopoly of the education bureaucracy,” Malatras wrote in the letter. “The education bureaucracy’s mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change. The result is the current system perpetuates the bureaucracy but, fails our students in many ways.”

Malatras added the governor has “little power” over education given the Board of Regents — appointed by state lawmakers — hires the education commissioner.

“The Governor’s power is through the budget process and he intends to introduce reforms during that process,” Malatras wrote.

Education Reform Letter by Nick Reisman