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Schimminger, citing ‘obfuscation,’ schedules hearing on Start-up NY jobs progam

ALBANY – An Assembly oversight panel is holding a hearing next week to press the Cuomo administration’s economic development agency for information about the Start-UP NY program, as well as the Buffalo Billion and other job creation efforts, the committee’s chairman said.

Concerns being raised about the programs have led him to call an oversight hearing four months earlier than is usual in most years, said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s economic development agency.

“We’re convening it sooner rather than later because there are questions coming from all around the state in regard to a host of programs,” Schimminger said of the various economic development efforts by the Cuomo administration.

The Start-Up NY program is likely to be the main issue discussed at the Aug. 3 hearing in Albany.

“The more one drills down into this, the more one determines that a lot of obfuscation is going on,” Schimminger said.

The Cuomo administration’s economic development agency will testify. Howard Zemsky, Cuomo’s economic development leader, is expected to attend the hearing, an agency spokesman said.

The Start-Up NY program, authorized in 2013, provides 10 years of no taxes for companies that locate in certain areas of the state connected to public and private colleges. The administration released a report on the eve of the July 4 weekend, and months late, that showed just 332 jobs were created, despite what critics contend is millions of dollars in marketing and other expenses.

Schimminger criticized the Start-Up NY annual report released earlier this month for its format – it was, unlike the previous year, lumped in with a host of other economic development programs and contained little in the way of specifics. “There was a broad report in very large print, which covered a range of programs including Start-Up. The information regarding Start-Up NY was very ambiguous and much of it was contained in a footnote,’’ he said.

An Empire State Development Corp. spokesman, however, said the agency released all the information about the Start-Up NY over the past year as required by the 2013 law.

But Schimminger said this year’s format made it difficult to compare 2015 to 2014.

“Transparency is not about a treasure hunt,” he said.

For instance, he said, the administration appears to have released figures for total jobs created by Start-Up NY during 2015. But, he said, the law requires a report on “net new jobs” – which do not include part-time positions or a job created by the geographic transfer of an existing job – not the total number that the administration put out.

The lawmaker said the Assembly panel is also likely to press the economic development agency for information about the state’s 10 regional councils that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars a year for job creation efforts. Also on the agenda: the administration’s Buffalo Billion program, which has been under investigation for more than a year by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“We’ll have to see how responsive ESDC will feel in answering questions on the Buffalo Billion given the fact that there’s a criminal investigation going on at the hands of Preet Bharara. (Zemsky) may be counseled to not say very much,” Schimminger said.

The Assembly has a rule that standing committees conduct one annual oversight hearing of the agencies under their purview; the economic development committee typically holds its sessions in December each year.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

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