It's the next phase of state investment in Western New York and, although it amounts to $500 million, is being called "Buffalo Billion Squared." Governor Andrew Cuomo provided hints of the additional development it would fund during his State of the State address Monday afternoon in Amherst.
Cuomo's appearance at the University at Buffalo North Campus was his second scheduled appearance Monday, and the second of six planned State of the State speeches throughout New York. He began his Monday in New York City and then came to the Buffalo area, where he tweaked his speech to cover accomplishments and goals for Upstate investment.
As expected, he opened his Western New York version of the State of the State Address by marking the developments made possible with investment from the original Buffalo Billion, including Canalside and the city's Riverbend section.
It's economic development Cuomo says was overdue after decades of neglect by Albany.
"The truth is the legislature in Albany all too often focuses too much on downstate," the governor said. "Why? Because that’s where most of them are elected from. That’s the single largest concentration density population in the state. I understand that. I’m from downstate New York. I understand the concept. But upstate New York actually has greater needs than downstate New York. And at the end of the day, upstate, downstate, we are one state."
Cuomo unveiled details of his "Buffalo Billion Squared," which invests $500 million in additional development. It will reach into neighborhoods not yet touched by redevelopment, including Buffalo's East Side. Ten million dollars, for example, are set aside for remediation of zombie properties in the East Side and in neighboring Cheektowaga.
Plans for the East Side also include the establishment of commercial corridors and move of Buffalo Manufacturing Works to that part of the city.
"Buffalo Billion Squared also says while we’ve been focusing on generating the economy and high tech jobs and advanced manufacturing jobs, it’s also important to make sure everyone is sharing in the success," Cuomo said. "Because the greatest feast has the largest number of people at the table and the greatest success is shared success. So we want to make sure every community is part of this renaissance."
The Buffalo Billion Squared also invests in Lackawanna and Niagara Falls. Spending in the latter city includes the acquisition of underutilized property downtown to foster new commercial activity. The plan also calls for the reclamation of 135,000 acres of the Niagara Gorge Corridor to preserve its ecology, while creating more year-round activities to attract tourists to Niagara Falls.
The Buffalo Billion Squared also commits $5 million to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown.
Both Erie County Executive Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown praised the focus on neighborhoods.
Brown wanted to see more money going to smaller projects on the East Side and Poloncarz wanted to see major redevelopment of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in his Lackawanna hometown. Both were included for the half-billion dollars of Buffalo Billion 2.
"Exactly what we wanted to see," Brown said. "The governor agreed with much of what was recommended in terms of resources for small businesses, resources for neighborhoods, resources for infrastructure in general, roads, curbs, sidewalks. Helping neighborhoods to grow and to create more jobs for the residents."
Poloncarz says the Buffalo Billion is showing success and that is why projects like redeveloping the old steel plant is important.
"We have had some successes there already, but we know more needs to be done," Poloncarz said. "When they approached us in December, saying we want to really work on these projects. 'What are the best ones you think for this community?' We listed a few of them and I'm very glad to see them in the proposal today. So it's not like these decisions were made on high and they just said here's where we're going to spend the money."
Cuomo's speech also highlighted what he called the Middle Class Recovery Act, which seeks to provide additional child care tax credits, property tax relief and tuition-free public education for families with household incomes of $125,000 per year or less.
According to the governor, more than 200,000 families will be eligible for the additional child care tax credit, while 85 percent of New York families would qualify for tuition-free public college education.
He drew loud cheers when calling for the approval and implementation of ride-hailing services in Upstate New York.
"Ridesharing is creating thousands of jobs, it’s promoting safety for passengers, it’s making transportation less expensive, it’s helpful for people who go out and may have a few drinks – it’s actually safer from a drunk driving point of view. It makes total sense. However, it’s not allowed in upstate New York because it requires a vote of the legislature," Cuomo stated. "But meanwhile, it is allowed in downstate New York. This is one of those examples, my friends, where it is just an unfair duality. If it makes sense for downstate, it makes sense for upstate."
Cuomo was heckled twice during his presentation. One individual pointed to corruption probes and called the governor a "traitor."
Criticism elsewhere came from New York State Republican Chairman Edward Cox, who suggested the governor took his speeches on the road to avoid a hostile legislature and to perhaps show very early hints of a presidential run.
Republican State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer expressed disappointment, in a written statement, that the speech was scheduled while lawmakers like him had to be in Albany. However, he did express hope for tax relief and bringing ridesharing to Upstate New York.
New Republican State Senator Chris Jacobs said he also was pleased to hear the Governor’s support of ridesharing, as well as the additional commitment of $500 million toward economic development initiatives. He also applauded the Governor for announcing a major commitment to clean water infrastructure and water quality protection and said he welcomes "a serious discussion about college affordability and making high quality college education accessible for all New Yorkers."