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Assembly leader describes SolarCity as ‘worthwhile project,’ likely to get funding

ALBANY – The leader of the state Assembly signaled support Wednesday for Buffalo’s SolarCity project at RiverBend, but cautioned that his house is still doing its “due diligence” on the Cuomo administration’s request for $485 million to complete the facility.

“On the merits of it is a belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said of the SolarCity project.

“We don’t want to see worthwhile projects end. We know this is important to the city of Buffalo, and I think at the end, when we do our due diligence, things will work out,” Heastie said in a brief session with reporters outside his Capitol office.

The Assembly leader did not say what is involved in the Assembly Democrats’ “due diligence” exercise.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an apperance in Rochester Wednesday afternoon defended the Buffalo Billion program.

“It has been a godsend for Buffalo,” Cuomo said of the program, which includes the SolarCity project.

“The program is working, and it’s doing good things and it’s generating jobs, and Buffalo needs jobs,” he added.

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The governor reiterated many of the same points he made a day earlier in Manhattan, including his “zero tolerance” for fraud and abuse.

Cuomo was asked twice if he still had confidence in SUNY Polytechnic head Alain Kaloyeros to run a Buffalo Billion spin-off program in Rochester. He did not specifically answer, but later said Kaleoros’ work in Buffalo and Rochester “has been extraordinary.”

Cuomo tapped Kayoyeros to oversee projects in the Buffalo Billion program.

The Public Authorities Control Board was supposed to vote Wednesday on the money, but the meeting was postponed until next Wednesday, to let the Cuomo administration’s economic development agency release $485 million in grants and loans to fund the remaining work at the RiverBend site along the Buffalo River. The money must be steered through a corporate entity created by SUNY Polytechnic, which in turns pays contractors and subcontractors working on the project.

The meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday was postponed Monday after Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan would not publicly commit to voting for the funding request. Representatives on the state control board must unanimously agree for any capital funding requests that go before the panel.

Sources told The Buffalo News on Tuesday that a cash flow problem could occur – similar to one that led to the temporary layoffs of nearly 200 workers on the SolarCity project in February – within a couple or so weeks if next Wednesday’s control board meeting does not result in approval of the next and final round of state funding for the work.

Flanagan and his spokesman have said nothing new since Monday about the matter.

In his brief remarks Wednesday, Heastie mentioned the term “due diligence” three times.

“I think we’ll do our due diligence. I would assume the Senate will do their due diligence,” he said.

In Rochester, Cuomo did not specifically answer a reporter’s question about whether the control board next week will release the full $485 million request to finish the SolarCity project.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about the vagueness of the request for the $485 million and are looking to determine if additional controls should be placed on the funding. The additional scrutiny comes less than three weeks after Cuomo’s office received a subpoena from federal prosecutors seeking an array of information about a number of state projects, including the Buffalo Billion’s biggest project at RiverBend.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

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