BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — An outcry was heard across the City of Buffalo, as Seneca groups took over Buffalo's Niagara Square, Friday morning.
This was to voice their frustration over what they call "economic injustice" by New York State, to what they said are "aggressive tactics" by Governor Kathy Hochul's Administration.
Here is the timeline of events leading up to Friday morning:
- Disputes between the Senecas and the State began in March 2017, when the Senecas announced they were no longer obligated to pay the State a share of its slot machine revenues.
- The nation argued their obligation expired at the end of 2016.
- In 2019, the State won an initial ruling, backed by a federal appeals court, that the Seneca nation must keep up those revenue-sharing payments.
- The Senecas, in turn, began withholding these payments.
- Two years later, a federal appeals court once again ruled in favor of the State.
- Then, in late April, Gov. Hochul announced the State received $564 million in outstanding payments. In the same announcement, Gov. Hochul laid out plans to put roughly $418 million toward the new stadium, in Orchard Park.
"Our compact, the Seneca compact is one of the worst compacts in the United States," Alleghany Territory resident and former comptroller of the Nation, Odie Brant Porter said.
"Right now, New York State is getting a significant portion of any of our revenues," Porter said. "We have what is considered a net slot drop. We have money going into a slot machine. We pay our customers, and whatever is leftover, 25% of that goes right to New York State. Whatever is leftover, we pay 4,000 employees or 4,500 employees. We pay all the vendors in our area."
Dozens of Senecas from the 8,500-member nation came out to share their frustration with the New York State government.
"What we want you to understand is that in the Gaming Compact Dispute, the moneys that were in question were always, for five years, was in a restricted ESGRO account. They are protected. The money was always there. The problem with this is that Kathy Hochul, the Governor, reached in to freeze all of the Nation's account, threw us in a state of economic paralysis, and could not make payroll by the end of that week," Mothers of the Seneca Nation member, Leslie Logan said.
"The Mothers are wanting a better deal. We are going to fight for a better deal and sometimes people, the media will say, 'You made a lot of money, didn't you?' So what, it's still an improper portion to what we should be making. We're going to keep fighting," Porter said.
Mothers of the Seneca Nation member, Leslie Logan, said if there is going to be a revenue-sharing agreement with the State, the Seneca Nation needs something in return.
"We need to make sure that there is a fair and equitable amount of a quid pro quo. We give you something, you give us something," Logan said.
"We contribute significantly to Western New York, and what has New York State given us? Have they given us $1 in investment? No. No. We have gotten 0 from New York Statem" Porter said.
Erie County Libertarian Party chair, Duane Whitmer, also rallied in support.
"She[Gov. Hochul] sees your bank accounts and took your money. Why? To pander for votes by building a stadium for Florida billionaires[Pegula Family]," Whitmer said.
Whitmer plans to pursue any kind of lawsuit against the state's budget.
"I find it fitting we are here on April 15th, which is considered Tax Day. A day where you reconcile how much the government is going to take from you at gunpoint. If you don't believe me, stop paying your taxes and men with guns will come and take your stuff. They'll put you in jail and they'll make you a criminal. Our wonderful Kathy Hochul has expanded her criminal enterprise into bank robbery," Whitmer said. "I find it weird as I drive through Buffalo. We have the Ukrainian flag and a lot of local politicians were quick to say, 'We stand with Ukraine, we support Ukraine.' A foreign entity invading a smaller sovereign area is a problem. Why are they ignoring similar situations in our own backyard. What NYS did is considered an act of war. It is a financial blockade."
"The fight isn't over. We're going to continue to fight and we're looking at other avenues, as a grassroots community organization to ensure that we do get justice," Logan added. "Clearly, this was an act of aggression, we felt. We're still, that Monday, the Nation determined to surrender more than $540M to the state, and here is where we're at today."
Pheben Kassahun reached out to the Governor's office for a response and received this statement:
"Governor Hochul has worked to resolve this issue amicably since the beginning of her administration and receive the funds the State and local governments are owed. The courts have consistently ruled in the State's favor, and the State has negotiated in good faith and met every hurdle. Time and again, the Nation failed to fulfill their court-ordered obligations. After the Nation once again failed to make payments under the terms of an amicable agreement, the State had to take action to enforce the judgment, and we are pleased to have finally secured these long-overdue funds for Western New York communities."
Portion of funds to be paid to host communities, these amounts are what is due after accounting for advanced payments from the State, according to the Governor's Office.
- City of Buffalo = $34,766,305
- City of Niagara Falls = $38,940,440
- City of Salamanca & Cattaraugus County = $16,360,419
- Non-host county aid is split between 15 counties and that total is $56,484,661
HAPPENING NOW: The Mothers of the Seneca nation and grassroots #Seneca groups are rallying against New York State saying the state is using an “economic aggressive tactic” by using casino revenues from the Seneca Nation of Indians to fund the new #BuffaloBills stadium. @WKBW pic.twitter.com/yOWYDpitdn— Pheben Kassahun (@PhebenKassahun) April 15, 2022