The love affair continues. Following up on the Buffalo Billion program that has helped to turn this city around – financially and psychologically – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday unveiled Part II, a half-billion-dollar proposal that builds on the original effort while also advancing critical projects that have long been on the Western New York to-do list.
This is a program that the entire Western New York legislative delegation needs to support. Lawmakers and Cuomo are on the outs these days, but they need to save their arguments for another subject. Democrat or Republican, the area’s legislators have a responsibility to help drive – not just support – the region’s historic recovery.
The list of Buffalo and Western New York projects Cuomo is pushing in Part II is long and focused, dealing with tourism, infrastructure, education and manufacturing. If it’s not comprehensive, it is something very much like it.
The plan would, for example, create the “Buffalo Blueway” via a network of public access points along the city’s waterways. It’s a reorienting of the development mindset, and an important one: Buffalo’s rivers and lakefront comprise its most powerful resource, yet one that has long been abused and underused. Cuomo aims to play a role in reclaiming that squandered asset.
Most ambitious is the plan’s attention to the goal of extending the Metro Rail service north to the Amherst Campus of the University at Buffalo. That would be an enormously expensive and time-consuming project, but Cuomo proposes to start that work. In addition, the rail line would be extended south to the DL&W Terminal, which would be redeveloped into a potentially significant community asset. And, as already promised, a new Amtrak train station would be built.
It’s not just Buffalo. The plan would also establish a new visitor center on Grand Island, construct a “world-class lodge” on Goat Island in Niagara Falls, restore the Niagara River Gorge to remove invasive species and restore native plants, and acquire land near Niagara Falls State Park for future development. In Jamestown, it would provide $5 million in gap funding for the National Comedy Center, taking advantage of the city’s status as the hometown of one of America’s greatest comedians, Lucille Ball.
Other transformational parts of the plan include:
• $20 million to increase by 25 percent the class size of the UB Medical School, soon to move to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
• $10 million to Say Yes Buffalo, which partners with the Buffalo School District and guarantees a college education to all who graduate.
• Creating an investment hub on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
All that, and much more, was from the State of the State speech Cuomo delivered at UB on Monday. For the first time, the governor is making speeches around the state rather than just one in Albany.
The speeches include references to local projects as well as statewide initiatives, including a push to bring ride-hailing services such us Uber and Lyft to upstate New York. With appropriate protections in place, these services are important to New Yorkers and need to be operating statewide, not just in New York City.
Cuomo is also pushing a $2 billion water infrastructure program across the state. Although the funding mechanism has not yet been disclosed, its goal is to help communities cope with the critical – and expensive – task of upgrading old and unreliable drinking water and wastewater systems.
Money, of course, is a key issue. In addition to the initiatives Cuomo has unveiled in recent days, he has also proposed free tuition to New Yorkers attending the State University of New York. It all costs money.
Cuomo, who has prided himself on spending restraint, will present his 2017-18 budget proposal in a few days. If he is able to maintain that record of low spending growth while advancing these important economic proposals, he will have made a true difference for all New Yorkers.