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Another Voice: Legislature has a duty to protect taxpayer dollars

By Raymond W. Walter

The Buffalo News editorial board seems to misunderstand the difference between rigorous oversight and complaining. When taxpayer dollars are at stake, the Legislature has every right, a duty in fact, to ensure that those dollars are protected and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is being open, transparent and follows the law. Unfortunately, when it comes to key economic development programs, including Start-Up NY and Excelsior, all indications are that the administration has failed in its duties to the public.

The law that created Start-Up NY has very specific timelines and disclosures that must be met each year. The administration did not provide this information to the public in a timely fashion and when it finally did it arrive, it was buried in a much broader report and was woefully inadequate and inaccurate.

In regard to the Excelsior program, the state comptroller, in a scathing report, states that Empire State Development officials responded to their audit with “inaccuracies” and “false statements” and were “far less than forthcoming.” This is not the type of transparency and accountability that taxpayers should expect from their state agencies.

I also take issue with the implication by the editorial board that I’ve supported policies that, it correctly points out, have destroyed New York’s economic landscape. Fighting against unfunded mandates, the state’s Taylor Law and the Scaffold Law have been some of my major priorities during my time in Albany. Others, including the governor, have done very little to address these fundamentals.

Finally, in the current climate of corruption, where federal investigators have turned their eyes on the administration’s economic development efforts, tough questions and strict oversight need to be supported, not ridiculed. When confronted with the fact that the SolarCity project has had to reduce job estimates and amended its contract nine times, administration officials were caught unaware. There are billions of dollars being handed out around the state by Empire State Development and being administered by “not-for-profits” like Fort Schuyler, that operate in the shadows with no oversight or accountability. The fact that administration officials, when questioned about these companies, are willfully ignorant of how they operate should give every taxpayer in the state cause for great concern.

I will never apologize for holding this government accountable for how it spends our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Providing oversight and accountability will not squelch the growth of a new Buffalo, it will only enhance the prospects of success for all Western New Yorkers.

Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst, represents the 146th District in the State Assembly.

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