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Cuomo touts successes, but business groups repeat complaints

The state legislative session now behind him, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday touted Albany’s accomplishments in 2013 and sought to re-enforce his commitment to an upstate region he said is often forgotten in the Capitol.

But some business groups offered a different view.

During a bill-signing ceremony before several hundred invited guests at the Burchfield Penney Art Gallery at SUNY Buffalo State, Cuomo signed a bill setting up financial advisory panels for distressed upstate cities before authorizing other just-passed legislation later in Rochester and Binghamton.

While acknowledging he was not successful in achieving all of his legislative agenda, Monday’s visit to Buffalo gave him the chance to renew his familiar theme of a resurgent upstate region thanks to the efforts of his administration.

He was especially upbeat about Buffalo and its economy.

“The number of cranes, in some ways, is a litmus test of economic health,” he said. “For a lot of years, there were not any cranes in the sky above Buffalo. Today the cranes are back.”

But as the governor praised the efforts of the Legislature and his administration on behalf of upstate, business groups made it clear they do not share his enthusiasm. Unshackle Upstate called the session a “disappointment” for failing to fix a number of long-standing problems. Fixes are needed to help bring down the cost of running businesses, the group said.

“After two years of real cooperation and progress towards making New York State a better place to do business, the return of the old ways of doing business has caused our optimism to fade. Albany’s efforts to fix upstate New York’s ailing economy unfortunately stalled during this year’s legislative session,” the group said.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business called the 2013 session a “significant step back” for small businesses, through the minimum wage hike and failure to address state laws that drive up the cost of doing business.

“We acknowledge the efforts to revitalize New York, particularly upstate, through new economic investment, but have failed to see the same focus on sustaining small business. Albany needs to avoid political simplicity and focus both on our economic future and implement pro-growth policies that protect New York’s fragile economic reality,’’ said Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The governor broke little news during his visit but pointed to new initiatives. He emphasized the bills to address problems of distressed cities, a push for a referendum allowing new gambling facilities in parts of the state, and his Start Up NY program that links mostly upstate SUNY campuses and some private colleges to startup companies in a no-tax zone.

“If you have a tax-free environment plus all the assets of the great State of New York, what would be a better winning combination?” he asked.

Some critics have said Start Up NY ignores the needs of existing businesses struggling to afford New York’s high tax levels.

Unshackle Upstate said it will take more than the new program to solve upstate’s problems.

“After a budget that included a minimum-wage increase and an extension of an energy surcharge, Unshackle Upstate and others called on both houses to act on important, common- sense initiatives,” the group said. “Instead, we’re stuck with the status quo.”

“While Start Up NY will help their respective communities create jobs in the future, it’s going to take much more to turn around the upstate economy,” it added. “We expect our elected officials to step up and deliver in 2014.”