ALBANY, N.Y. -- Assemblyman Steve Katz, R-Yorktown, Westchester County, knocked $60 million in the state budget to help the Buffalo Bills, saying, "You're talking about essentially a handful of people who will go to this stadium eight days out of the year."
The comment drew sharp criticism from Western New York lawmakers and leaders who helped negotiate the state subsidy.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," said County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D-Erie County.
Katz spoke Monday night on the Assembly floor as lawmakers debated their one-house budget plans. The fiscal year starts April 1.
"Aren't they wealthy enough that they can handle their own operating support? Why are we doing this for them?" Katz asked.
Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Denny Farrell, D-Manhattan, defended the expense, saying it is important to keep the Western New York team in town.
"You know, the New York Giants said that one day and now they're the New Jersey Giants. They made a lot of money, but they decided they could make it someplace else," Farrell said. "Buffalo is the same thing. I don't know how much money they're making, but there is a lot of questions as to where they could go and make more. So we're working very hard to make sure we keep them because I don't want to get beat up because they left Buffalo."
Katz questioned the $60 million, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in December as part of a 10-year agreement to upgrade the stadium and assure the team stays in Buffalo.
"I don't see that this is the financial boon to the city of Buffalo," Katz continued. "Honestly, no offense intended to my colleagues up in Buffalo, but why would us, with all the needs our state needs, to be giving $60 million to billionaires who can more than afford all of this?"
Poloncarz offered a math lesson to the lawmaker, noting that the state will recoup its $60 million in income taxes directly tied to the Bills. Add to that sales tax revenue, and Albany will come out ahead, Poloncarz said.
He said without the subsidy, the team could become the "Los Angeles Bills."
"New York State alone would lose millions upon millions of dollars (if the team leaves) that are generated as a result of the Buffalo Bills being in New York State," Poloncarz said.
Farrell mentioned how other pro sports teams got subsidies from the state. A New York Times article said New York State contributed about $201 million in total to projects to build new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets.
State Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Erie County, said he will not vote for a budget that doesn't include the funding to help keep the Bills in Buffalo.
"The Buffalo Bills are way to important to the people of Western New York," Kennedy said. "They're way too important to the people of New York State."
Now that the Senate and Assembly have passed their own one-house budgets, leaders from the two houses will meet with the governor to hammer out a final deal. That's expected to wrap up next week, and due to support all around, the $60 million for the Bills is expected to remain in the final budget.
Includes Reporting by Joe Spector | Gannett Albany Bureau