New York Gov. David Paterson is pushing a plan with legislative leaders to re-bid the Aqueduct casino project, a proposal that could push off a final decision until the end of the year.
The governor said March 24 that he believes the state’s general procurement process should be followed with a new Aqueduct bid instead of by special statute, putting the power to decide into the hands of the governor and two legislative leaders.
“We are hoping to speed up the process,’’ Paterson said.
But aides to the governor later said that the hope would be to pick a bid winner by Dec. 31, Paterson’s last day in office.
The regular state procurement process would demand following a set number of guidelines instead of the much-criticized process used over the past year in which a half-dozen bidders were able to re-tool their plans long after supposed deadlines.
The governor’s new procurement idea goes against the wishes of some lawmakers, who say Paterson and legislative leaders should merely pick from the handful of bidders remaining in the process following the recent decision to pull back the award to Aqueduct Entertainment Group.
Documents involving the scuttled selection of AEG to run a long-stalled video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct will be publicly released, the leader of the state Senate in New York said March 24.
“We have nothing to hide with respect to AEG,” said Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, who along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. David Paterson tapped AEG for the casino project.
The AEG award was killed, however, after the state Lottery Division said it could not license the team to run the casino. That word came after complaints—before and after the selection of AEG—of a political coziness by some of its partners and public officials, especially in the state Senate.
The vow by Sampson to release the documents came after the state Inspector General’s office, which is conducting a probe of the Aqueduct bidding process, subpoenaed documents from the Senate. Sampson, though, insisted the Senate does not have to comply with the subpoena because the investigatory agency only has jurisdiction over executive branch agencies and not the legislature.
Sampson indicated the Senate will seek to block in court the subpoenas issued to Sampson, Senate President Malcolm Smith, and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. It is unclear precisely what documents would be released by the Senate if it is trying not to comply with the subpoenas.
The Aqueduct bidding process now appears on hold. While there were some indications earlier in March that Paterson and legislative leaders would try to pick a new operator as part of state budget talks now under way, lobbyists and lawmakers said talks have stalled, in large part because of the probe by the Inspector General’s office and a side investigation by federal prosecutors looking into how AEG was awarded the deal.
The state was anticipating $300 million from the casino bid winner to help close a deficit in its budget. Sampson called it an “unfortunate” delay that is “holding up everything” at Aqueduct. He blamed gossip “and innuendo” that is costing jobs at the racetrack.
Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to authorize new controls and a timetable for selection of a new VLT casino operator. Introduced by a Republican in the Democrat-controlled Senate, the bill would have the state comptroller tap an outside accounting firm to go over bids.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, would permit those entities with bids already submitted to remain in the running and amend their bids, though it would specifically exclude AEG. It would also open a 10-day window—beginning the first day of the month following enactment of the law—for new bidders to enter the process.
The outside accounting firm would be given 25 days to review the bids and make a recommendation. The reasons for the recommendation would be made public. Within 10 days, a public hearing on the recommendation would be held, and 15 days later the governor and legislative leaders would have to make a selection.
The minimum bid under the Golden bill would be $300 million. The legislation does not yet have companion legislation in the Assembly.