Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared in Buffalo on Tuesday morning to celebrate several components of the newly-passed state budget and to promote the next phase of his ambitious Buffalo Billion program.
Cuomo told a receptive audience that the "Buffalo Billion Squared," which is actually a half-billion-dollar total investment, will be "sweeter" than the initial package because it follows the principle that the greatest success is a shared success. The governor said neighborhoods and communities that did not necessarily benefit from the initial Buffalo Billion spending will get their turn in the next phase.
"You're going to see Jamestown invested in, more investment in Niagara Falls and you're going to see the East Side of Buffalo not watching success but participating in success and being part of it," Cuomo said.
Guests of the governor's visit applauded at several points during a video presentation. Elected officials providing opening remarks, including Mayor Byron Brown and local representatives of state government, took turns praising the administration for its ambitious spending on Buffalo-Niagara.
"It's been said before and I'm going to say it again. We have never seen the attention given to our community that we are seeing today," said State Senator Timothy Kennedy. "We have never seen the focus given to Buffalo and Western New York out of Albany that we are seeing under the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo."
The governor later signed what he calls the Middle Class Recovery Act, an initiative that seeks to lower property tax burdens by pushing county and municipal governments into consolidation plans that the public would then vote to approve. His plans for relief to middle class families also include his free tuition to public colleges for qualified families.
The plan has numerous critics who question just how "free" that tuition is. The plan also includes the condition that students who take advantage of the program then live and work in New York State for as many years as they received the tuition relief.
Cuomo also defended another controversial piece of legislation passed during the budget process, "Raise the Age," which ends the prosecution and incarceration of 16- and 17-year-old criminal offenders as adults.
Critics say it gives younger offenders a means by which they can commit violent crimes yet not face adult justice. Cuomo and other supporters of "Raise The Age" see it as a means to break a cycle that young people get caught in and cannot escape.
"Once you have a young person with a felony conviction on their record, forget them trying to get a good job. No employer wants to go near them," Cuomo said. "Once you take a young person and you send them into a jail or a prison with hardened criminals, with real predators, don't be surprised when they come out hard and they come out worse."
Cuomo arrived at the Rev. Dr. Bennett Smith, Sr. Family Life Center as a passenger in a vehicle driven by an Uber employee. While it was not an official Uber ride, officials later admitted, it was a symbolic first for Upstate, which will formally welcome ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft in the early summer. Passage of ride-hailing was a long-sought piece of the state budget by local lawmakers.
The driver, Tariq Nawaz, lives in Buffalo but explained that he commutes to New York City to work as an Uber driver for two or three weeks at a time before returning to his family. When ride-hailing opens for business later this year, his trips to New York City will end.
"We have a lot of students. A lot of tourists here," Nawaz said. "I'm sure Uber will do good here."