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Editorial: In a hopeful move, Buffalo Billion II survives budget delay

State legislators on Monday approved full funding for the second phase of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development surge. It was a hopeful sign in an otherwise unhappy budget process that has delivered the first notably late spending plan since Cuomo took office in 2011.

Still, give this much to New York Republicans and Democrats: They’re not wholly suicidal. That is to say, unlike some of their federal counterparts, they don’t dream about shutting down the government to make a point. Facing a conflict over spending priorities, legislators on Monday passed a funding extender to keep things running while they worked on passing the budget bills.

Happily for Western New York, that extender included funding for the second phase of the Buffalo Billion. It was a relief to have the funding approved in a way that kept control of economic development out of the hands of legislators. That would have been disastrous, destroying the focus that Cuomo’s economic development policies have brought to Western New York and other regions of the state.

The Buffalo Billion has already changed the region’s economic trajectory. It has delivered not just an economic shot in the arm for a long-distressed city, but an enormous psychological boost, as well. Local people today are more likely to focus on Buffalo’s tremendous assets more than its disabilities, however real they may be. There is a new sense of possibility in the air here.

But the project was always going to need ongoing support from the state, just as Albany continually bolstered the Capital Region’s state-driven economic revival. Albany had then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, an area resident, to look after its interests. Buffalo has Cuomo.

Thus, Cuomo structured the second phase of the project to build upon the first. Its components include:

• Moving the Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

• Expanding greenway space in the Niagara Gorge corridor.

• Increasing state funding at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, historic sites and waterway access areas.

• Developing a new commuter rail and multimodal station in downtown Buffalo and completing the light rail line’s extension to Amherst (although President Trump’s proposed budget could hurt any effort to extend  Metro Rail).

• Investing in “placemaking” improvements on the city’s East Side.

In total, the second phase will provide $500 million to continue the wholly beneficial work of firing up the Buffalo economy.

In a politically wise move, the extender also included funding for projects in many other parts of the state, including Rochester, the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Schenectady, New York City and other areas. In addition, the state will invest new money in its state parks.

None of this substitutes for an actual budget, though. With this one possibly going to be just a few days late, and given the recent on-time performance of the governor and Legislature, New Yorkers should be able to resist the nagging suspicion that the state is returning to its old bad habits. For two decades, Albany couldn’t get a budget done on time, sometimes busting the April 1 deadline by more than four months. It was an irresponsible habit that, among other problems, left school districts around the state in a financial fog.

New York cannot return to those days. Cuomo and legislators appear to be making the necessary compromises to conclude this budget quickly. There is no value to anyone in dragging this out.

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