New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat representing the Capital Region, spoke with WAMC for an upcoming Congressional Corner segment on Thursday. He was asked about the many possible casino proposals being discussed within his district.
"You know, I’ve seen these dividing communities along almost a 50-50 threshold. If there is going to be an issue that people decide, if there is going to be a casino in the area, I hope it’s going to be a situation where it’s not in a poor neighborhood because of the disproportional impact on the poor," he said. "But in general, I’m concerned about us hinging our hopes for a better economy on casinos. I think there has got to be a better way, a more straightforward way. What we have is a dependency on perhaps someone to lose their retirement check or their week's salary so that we can invest in children and their future through education. Somehow that doesn’t make sense to me."
"I know people have been saying that it equals jobs and it provides for economic recovery. I don’t know if the soundness of that recovery is as great as we would like to think; you look at the economy in Las Vegas and Nevada, it has not been that great, the property values have dipped precipitously," he added. "I talked to my colleagues from Nevada, they have had tough, tough times and you see this growing number of states in the Northeast that are delving into this concept of casinos. I have to believe there is a finite amount of money that people are able, not necessarily willing, but able to give. After you have drained some of those paychecks and retirement accounts, what’s left? And of course the impact on the cultural industry in these towns: Proctors, SPAC, the track itself in Saratoga. This has to be done in a way that puts together a plan that can avoid however possible, the negative impact on some of the standing cultural entities or entertainment entities as they exist today and also just being conscious of just where we provide for the setting so that it is not going to make it so convenient for some of the poorest amongst us."
Q: Does this put you at odds with the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo?
"I think it was decided by the people of New York to go forward with this," Tonko said. "In theory, I just don’t think it’s the best reach we can make for a stronger economy. I agree with the governor’s desire to fund more dollars for education. I just think there’s got to be more fundamental revenue drivers that we can do: tax fairness, closing loopholes, progressivity in the income tax chart; those things I think provide a stable outcome. You look at the middle-income community taking it on the chin over the last decade or two, it’s unreasonable, it’s unacceptable, and it’s un-American. I mean, the purchasing power of the middle-income community, the robust opportunity for them to land work and enjoy the dignity of work; those are the strengtheners that we need, and some of these reaches to the automatic overnight success may just be overstated, I think."