Zephyr Teachout: Buffalo’s future requires responsible investment - The Buffalo News

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Zephyr Teachout: Buffalo’s future requires responsible investment

By Zephyr Teachout

An Aug. 30 editorial did not reflect my view on the “Buffalo Billion.” The Zephyr Teachout/Tim Wu campaign enthusiastically supports the concept of investing and mobilizing a significant amount of money to revitalize the local economy and generate self-sustaining economic development. Western New York residents deserve nothing less after years of neglect.

I share Buffalo’s longing to see the region’s economy turn around as quickly as possible.

To that end, it’s important that we take the time to maximize Buffalo’s prospects – even if it means fewer celebratory press conferences. Critically, the state’s pervasive culture of corruption and “pay to play” must not drive the choices we make to boost Buffalo. Those choices must take care to protect existing neighborhoods. We must also protect the region’s environment and this area’s most important natural resource, fresh water.

Responsible investment in Buffalo’s future means that development plans must be preceded by appropriate planning to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are not wasted. The need for expanded infrastructure – roadway, water and sewer facilities, and energy sources – must be realistically assessed before committing state funds. And companies interested in moving to Buffalo or expanding existing operations must be properly vetted to ensure they are up to the task.

Sound investment in cutting-edge technology and “green energy industries” is an exciting and worthy pursuit. But we must be sure that rigorous standards protect Lake Erie and fragile natural habitats along the outer harbor from the pollution that can accompany manufacturing.

Western New York cannot afford to repeat the mistakes it made generations ago when businesses placed profits over clean air, clean water and the health of residents.

The Buffalo Billion must be allocated without favoritism, and the selection process should be transparent. Winners must include local companies and small businesses that truly need the assistance to grow. Certainly the commitment of 20 percent of the Buffalo Billion to one project, RiverBend – a project that has repeatedly changed in size and scope – should be carefully re-evaluated.

It may only be a coincidence, but it is demoralizing for competing companies, taxpayers and residents to learn that two prominent Buffalo developers, LP Ciminelli and Uniland Development, were awarded major developer status for two Buffalo Billion projects following sizable contributions to Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 campaign.

Fairness also means that a significant portion of the Buffalo Billion must be used to train Western New York residents for the anticipated jobs in emerging industries.

The Buffalo Billion, if done fairly and responsibly, is a great idea. I want to look back in eight or 12 years and be proud that every dollar was well spent.

Zephyr Teachout is running against Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for governor.

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