Apr 10


Monday Morning Read

We're going to spend at least $1.13 billion on a new Bills stadium. As a result, other capital projects and government programs and services won't get funded.

Below is the latest “What I’m Reading” portion of our email newsletter that publishes every Sunday. You can subscribe for free here.

Let’s discuss “opportunity costs” for a few minutes.

An opportunity cost is when you spend money on something at the expense of spending it on something else. An example: You’ve got $100 to spend. You put it towards a nice dinner rather than, say, buying a new winter jacket.

That said, the decision by state — and soon, county officials — to spend $1.13 billion to build and maintain a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills involves a huge opportunity cost.

For example, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz contends the county’s $250 million share of construction costs will not result in a tax increase. If that’s the case, it means the money to pay off some $175 million in bonds the county is expected to sell — use of surplus funds would cover the rest — will have to come from existing county revenues. Which means that money will not get spent on other programs and services. Something has to give.

The same principle holds true for the state’s investment: $600 million for construction and $100 million over 15 years for upkeep. There likely will not be bonds involved, as Gov. Kathy Hochul intends to fund most of the upfront costs with $418 million she’s wrestled from the Seneca Nation.

But that raises another issue: while not technically taxpayer funds, the casino monies are public funds, sitting in the state treasury, and therefore could be used for any number of purposes. She’s kinda stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

For example, Buffalo and Erie County have unfunded capital needs that total several billion dollars. Ancient and over-taxed sewer lines that pollute rivers, streams and creeks. Deteriorating water lines that frequently burst in the suburbs and contaminate the drinking water with lead in the city. Libraries, community centers, City Hall itself, which have deteriorated for years — indeed, decades — because of deferred maintenance. To say nothing of the thousands of inner-city houses contaminated with lead paint that poison hundreds of children a year for lack of money — and political will — to remediate them.

So, yeah, there are opportunity costs to putting $1.13 billion into a new football stadium.

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On a related matter, I was struck by Poloncarz’s selection of the Bills practice dome in Orchard Park as the site of his state of the county address last week. To say nothing of his choice of John Murphy, who does the play-by-play of Bills games on the radio, as the event’s MC. The county executive came across as looking like a tool, or at least a fan-boy.

But what really struck me was the county executive’s choice of words in discussing the deal he helped to negotiate.

“We all bleed Bills’ red, white and blue. The team is ingrained in our hearts and souls.”

A bit much, wouldn’t you say? I mean, “ingrained in our hearts and souls”? Really?

Yes, there are a lot of passionate Bills fans. Some fair-weather ones. And, frankly, a fair amount of locals who don’t really give a hoot.

Last week I referenced a poll that found a little more than half of local residents surveyed support the stadium deal. The other half? Well, I guess they don’t have the Bills in their hearts and souls.

I’m reminded of a Buffalo News reader survey conducted years ago when I was at the paper. One of its findings was that the sports section was one of the least-read parts of the newspaper. Half of readers read the sports regularly; the other half rarely picked it up. Which is to say, a fair number of people in the community could take or leave sports, much less the Bills.

But here we all are, putting $1.13 billion towards a stadium that will get used maybe a dozen times a year. The neighborhood library? That will have to wait.

While I’m on the topic of the Bills, Forbes has come out with an updated list of billionaires. The net worth of Terry Pegula has climbed to $5.8 billion, which puts him at No. 438 on the list of the world’s richest people. Pegula ranked No. 520 on last year’s list, with a net worth of $5.4 billion.

A CBS Sports analysis of the updated billionaires list ranked Pegula as the NFL’s ninth wealthiest owner.

Which has me thinking: perhaps we’re looking at the wrong ranking when we look at Bills country. We’re not the second-smallest market in the NFL; our team is in the hands of the league’s ninth-richest owner.

An owner, I might add, who lives in palatial surroundings. TheRealDeal, a real estate website, published a story the other day that detailed the digs that Terry and Kim call home, all 14,000 square feet of it. It includes a heated swimming pool three times the size of your normal in-ground variety, complete with a waterfalls; an air-conditioned 10–car garage; and an eight-stall horse stable.

Then, or course, there’s the couple’s $75 million, 200 foot yacht.

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Elsewhere around Western New York, the Buffalo Board of Education suspended, but failed to terminate Crystal Barton from her post as principal of McKinley High School five years ago. They’ve been paying her ever since. The board finally settled with her last week. In addition to the $645,000 she received while not working, the board gave her $200,000 for money she might have made — overtime and the like — had she been working. The board also covered $75,000 in legal fees. And, oh, they offered to bring her back as principal and issued a statement saying how wonderful she is.

Finally, there’s the two Buffalo cops who shoved Martin Gugino — on camera — the summer of 2020 in a video that went viral. Fractured his skull in the process. Last week, an arbitrator by the name of Jeffrey Selchick, ruled the two cops did nothing wrong. He did, however, find fault with the 75-year-old Gugino.

To paraphrase Water Cronkite, that’s the way it was in Buffalo last week. Heaven help us.