For more than two years, they haven't paid a dime.
Perhaps it is time to consider eviction, foreclosure or to cancel the contract. Time to develop municipal muscle.
In 2002, Albany made a compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians, one that involved the city of Niagara Falls as the weak sister, witless, hapless, third party to the contract.
The other two got the benefits; we got the crumbs and paid the costs, starting with giving up our convention center for one dollar.
Part of the deal was to snatch 50 acres out of downtown Niagara Falls and give it to the Seneca Nation of Indians to create a sort of trick "sovereign nation" territory within our city so there could be gambling here, in spite of the state constitution that prohibits gambling in New York.
The compact granted to the tiny Sovereign Nation, a tribe of about 7,800 individuals, a racial or ethnic or national preference, a monopoly to conduct gaming in Niagara Falls and, as an additional element, to allow this Seneca Tribe to compete tax-free in any kind of business they chose against our highly taxed local businesses.
If you can believe it, a foreign, sovereign, separate nation was given a piece of America with superior rights to Americans living and working next to them.
This uneven playing field created a class or caste system where the Seneca is the highest caste, for they are above many laws. They can have legal gambling. They may build without complying with costly New York state building codes or bothering with inspectors.
They may build anything of any shape at any height without concern for zoning ordinances, planning boards or height restrictions.
They may open any business and not pay property or sales taxes. Their hotels operate without paying bed taxes. They can permit smoking in their bars and not comply with Board of Health regulations.
They have a huge economic advantage over Americans living in Niagara Falls, who are, as the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C. reported, one of, if not the highest taxed people in the country in proportion to their income and assets.
The only payment Seneca has to pay for this multibillion-dollar gift is to pay Albany 25 percent of the "net drop" or Seneca's "winnings" from slots. Nothing on other games of chance.
Nothing on any other business.
The state in turn was supposed to give Niagara Falls 25 percent of their take. While good for Albany and Seneca, it was a horrendous deal for Niagara Falls.
Fifty acres carved out of a famous city and given to a sovereign nation. A first in American history, perhaps in the world. Whoever gave away part of their country except by force? Whoever sold part of their nation before?
And remember, this land was not on historic Seneca Reservation land settled as theirs by federal treaty, but on American land fought over and won and lost by many different tribes and early settlers, resulting ultimately in its becoming part of the United States. Indeed, Seneca killed and scattered the peaceful Neutral Tribe to take this land and were in turn driven off by the ancestors of some of the present-day Americans, some of whom shed their blood to make this part of America.
It would be as foolish to say that the descendants of the╩fiercely aggressive,╩warlike ancient Seneca are owed this land as their due, as it would be to say we should return╩New York state back over to England.
That takes us back to the present.
Seneca and Albany, for their various and self-serving reasons, owe the city more than $60 million. Seneca, which has withheld payments since January 2009, is more than $400 million in arrears on their payments to Albany, which can give one a clue as to what a prosperous operation they have going.
First, you have to ask, why, instead of an American, should we have a sovereign Seneca casino and tax-free zone in the middle of Niagara Falls anyway?
Why does a "Sovereign Nation" make hundreds of millions from gaming and tax-free businesses every year while our city is broke and our children flee to better governed places?
Pro-Seneca advocates argue that when Seneca pays its percentage to Albany (if it ever does) on slot machines, the amount that goes to Niagara Falls is more than the city would get in property taxes.
So what? That's nothing compared to a million per day.
And Seneca created several thousand jobs. Who wouldn't under the circumstances? But most of those jobs are comparable to wages at MacDonald's, about $10 per hour. Many are part time.
On top of that, Seneca has an employment policy that, if it were in America, would be obscenely racist and illegal. According to the official employment policies of Seneca, Seneca may fire any American employee at any time without cause to replace him or her with a Seneca.
And before the politically correct howl that Seneca is more American than you or I, kindly remember they are by their own long-settled determination not American.
In the first paragraph of the compact itself, Seneca demanded recognition by New York state as a Sovereign Nation, just exactly as the United States is recognized and described in the compact as a Sovereign Nation.
In a recent article in a local paper, it was written, "While most of Western New York slogs along through difficult economic times, there always seems to be growth at Seneca Gaming Corp."
I believe if Americans had the same tax-free opportunities as Seneca, the slogging would be over. When did the day ever dawn when Americans, absent the heavy hand of government, were unable to thrive?
The world is governed too much. So is America. So is New York. And so especially is Niagara Falls.
But Seneca is not governed too much. And they succeed.
Seneca is gleaming, while dozens of local American-owned businesses collapse in its shadows. Drive around the perimeter of Seneca Niagara. Just outside its borders, there are more vacant properties than occupied. All that spin-off we were promised when it was announced Seneca was coming was a lie.
Consider the awful governance where Albany gave U.S. land in Niagara Falls to the Sovereign Seneca, so that Americans could go on foreign soil, which used to be American soil, and gamble.
That most rational of governors, Andrew Cuomo, has suggested we stop lying to ourselves. There is gambling in New York and it should not be race-based.
That, parsing by the stupid skin game, only people of red skin, instead of brown, white or black skin, should be allowed to operate gaming is an obscenity.
Seneca and Albany owe us $60 million. The ponderous clock began striking.
Now has come the time to consider how we can take back all of Niagara Falls. How to level the playing field, so that all people living and working in Niagara Falls have the same legal rights.
Perhaps we could sue Albany and Seneca for eviction in federal court for non-payment or for equality under the law. Perhaps we can take back the unused portion of the 50 acres.
Let's start a serious discussion about how we can get that million per day and use it to make this city prosperous again, and end all Seneca legal preferences in our city.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||April 17 2012|