Here's a transcript of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's regional State of the State speech in Buffalo on Monday afternoon at the University at Buffalo. It was provided by the governor's office.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Well it is great to be at UB. Let’s give Satish Tripathi and Nancy Zimpher, a great round of applause for their great work. Really an extraordinary accomplishment. And to all of the elected officials who we’ve worked with so successfully, but another round of applause for Mayor Brown, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Mayor Dyster, Comptroller Mark Schroder, Mayor Sam Teresi. And how about that Howard Zemsky?
I just read – he did a book, Howard. The book came out around Christmas. The sales haven’t been great. I got an early copy. The title was, “I Always Wanted to be Jerry Seinfeld, But I Wound Up Being the Head of Economic Development, Go Figure,” but it is a good read. It is a good read. It has a sort of schizophrenic twist to it about a man caught in one occupation but he really wanted to be another person. Certain sexual identity issues in their also. But it is a good book and he on a serious note has been such an extraordinary benefit – not just to Western New York – he has turned around all of upstate New York. Let’s give him a big round of applause. That is Howard Zemsky.
And I am so excited to be here and talk about the new year. The State of the State, we’ve been talking about the State of the State for the past few days. What is the State of the State? It is, well, stronger than it has been in decades and nobody knows that better than you in Buffalo know that. New York has made remarkable economic and social progress. Not since the time of FDR and Robert Moses. Our government has achieved more, built more, passed more meaningful legislation than ever before. It really has been an extraordinary six years in terms of progress, especially when you compare it to the preceding decades of stagnation.
Statewide, the unemployment went from 8.4 percent to 5.1 today. And the good news is you see that economic recovery all across the state. It used to be that downstate New York would do very well economically and upstate New York would lag and we have changed that because we focused much more on upstate New York and now when you look at the gross numbers in upstate New York, you see they are all across the state and they are comparable with what you are seeing downstate. It’s extraordinary that the growth in the North Country, for example, would be better than the growth in Manhattan. So it really is a testament to the new and balanced approach that is working across the entire state.
In the state of New York today we have just under eight million private sector jobs. That is more private sector jobs than have ever existed in the state of New York. That is what 8 million jobs represent. Western New York – 23,900 new jobs since 2010. So we are making dramatic progress. But the progress didn’t just happen. We took dramatic action six years ago. we really headed in a much different course. The truth was the state was on a spending spree and it had been for many, many years. When you go back 50 years and you look at the rate of spending in the state, the state was spending at a higher rate of increase than the people in the state were earning income. Just think about that for a second. Literally, the government was spending more than its people were earning and that is why there was that constant feeling that government was taking more and more of your paycheck. Do you know why? Because government was taking more and more of your paycheck. And what we did fundamentally, was we got the state spending under control. During the times going back to Governor Rockefeller, the state spent about 11 percent more every year. Governor Carey – 7.9, my father Mario Cuomo – 6.9, George Pataki, Republican Conservative was elected to correct the spending of Mario Cuomo, a democratic liberal. The difference was 1.7. We brought the spending in six years down to 1.4 percent.
Now when you get that spending down, a lot of good things happen. And when you get the spending down, then you can cut taxes and the taxes for every person in the state of New York – at every rate – are lower today than they were five years ago. Lowest middle class tax rate since 1947. Lowest manufactured tax since 1917—which is zero. Lowest corporate tax since 1968. So we got the spending down, it allowed us to get the taxes down and that’s why you see a new attitude where businesses believe they’re welcome in New York, families believe they’re welcome in New York. The exodus has stopped, the job growth has started. And we also shook up Albany on a different level. And we shook them up to the fact that upstate actually matters.
The truth is the legislature in Albany all too often focuses too much on downstate. Why? Because that’s where most of them are elected from. That’s the single largest concentration density population in the state. I understand that. I’m from downstate New York. I understand the concept. But upstate New York actually has greater needs than downstate New York. And at the end of the day, upstate, downstate, we are one state. We are one set of books. And not to give upstate the attention and help it deserves never made any sense. So we started with a new approach where we invested in upstate New York to an exponential extent from past years. And we changed the way we did it. The old way was Albany bureaucrats and politicians said this is what I want to spend money on in Buffalo. This is what I want to spend money on in Syracuse. So it was really more political pork barrel and political payoffs than anything else.
We put together Regional Economic Development Councils. Which are the top business people in each region working with the top academic people in each region. And we said to them, you give us a business plan that actually makes sense for that region. And then we will follow what your plan says rather than the politicians in Albany tell you what they think you should do. It was a totally different approach. Now, the legislature doesn’t like it. Because they liked it when they got to make the decisions. But let politicians do what politicians do, let business leaders and academic leaders do what they do. Let them design the business plan for the region. Because it’s about creating jobs. That’s what this is all about, and that’s what these REDC’s have done extraordinarily well. And it is working. We have invested $4.6B in these Regional Economic Development Councils. We have created 210,000 jobs and in Western New York we made a special commitment. Why? Western New York, I believe we had a commitment to make up for years of abandonment and years of inaction.
I first came to Buffalo when I was in my twenties. My father was Governor. I was working with a fellow named Tim Russert who was a good buddy of mine who was working with my father also. He was my father’s press secretary. And he was the first person who used to bring me out to Buffalo. And we would always come out on official business. That’s why we took the plane. And we would do our official business and then we would have some unofficial events. And he showed me Buffalo in only a way that Tim Russert could show somebody Buffalo. But it had such potential always. And it had such a great work force, such a great ethic, such a great history. And it got caught in an economic transition and really state government was never there to help.
But people never gave up on Buffalo, and that’s what was always extraordinary to me. I mean the economic transition has been going on since the 50’s, the 60’s. 70’s, 80’s, 90’s. And people never gave up. They stayed because they believed in Buffalo. And when I became Governor I committed myself to making a difference, and making up for the lack of state energy and state investment in Buffalo. And we did and that’s what the Buffalo Billion was all about. It was a billion dollars. Why a billion? A billion to say to people, this is not just another plan. And I’m not just another politician with another plan, because you’ve heard a lot of politicians with a lot of plans over a lot of years. And over 30, 40 years of decline, every time a new mayor, every time a new county executive, every time a new governor was elected he goes “I’m going to help Buffalo—really, believe me, believe me. I’m going to help Buffalo.” And you had your heart broken once and you had your heart broken twice and you had your heart broken three times. And it was hard to believe again. So I said, we really needed something to capture people’s attention, because they have to believe that it’s going to work, if it’s going to work.
So we said “a Buffalo billion, ohh.” Not only did it rhyme, billion is a serious number. And it got people’s attention. And it gave us a little opening where people opened their heart and opened their mind to say you know what, maybe this is different. And then we went to work. Once you had that window of potential, and that window of hope. And the progress has been amazing. If anyone said to you five years ago, we would have the growth that we have today, I would have said to them, you’re being way overly optimistic it’s impossible. You can’t reverse fifty years of economic decline in five years. It’s not going to happen. You can’t do it that fast. But we did. Highest wage growth in Buffalo in 36 years, nearly four decades. A 22 percent increase in construction from jobs in 2010 to 2015—highest since they’ve been keeping numbers. Home sales up 11 percent, some were some of the highest records in 2015, and home prices have increased close to 20 percent since 2011, just think of that. The state has spent $150 million to promote tourism, which sounds like a lot of money—and it is. But it is paying dividends. Our tourism spending is now up to $102B in economic impact. And again, you see the growth in tourism is all across the state. Western New York, we’re close to 14 percent.
It’s been great for all of Western New York. 18 million tourists - up 14 percent since 2010. 18 million, and we’re going to do even better than that next year. $2.8 billion – more than 57,000 jobs, up 11 percent. That is the I Love NY campaign, the Taste NY campaign, all that advertising has really turned around tourism. Canalside has been a phenomenal success, people are now coming from all across the country to study Canalside for the great success that it is. Ten times as many visitors since 2010. We have companies coming to Buffalo - that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. If I told you Tesla was coming, and Panasonic was coming, you would have said it’s too good to be true, but they’re here.
Millennials are coming back after so many years of seeing young people leave. After so many years of seeing that same scene at the airport, with sons leaving and daughters leaving to follow jobs that were somewhere else. Now, it’s actually reversed, and young people are coming back to Buffalo. And they want to live in the city and they want to live in that social environment. New hotels in Niagara Falls – who would have believed? Riverbend, former steel plant, is now the location of the largest solar panel facility in the Western Hemisphere. 43 North has been a national innovation in entrepreneurism; Buffalo Billion is working. On every level it’s working. You look at the numbers, you look at the experience, it’s working. And since we’ve made so much progress in such a short period of time. The real question is where do we go from here? Because the dramatic success that was unimaginable only speaks to the potential that we actually have. Now, we know one thing we have to do. We have to continue to focus on the economy, and we especially have to focus on the economy for the middle class and working class. They have been especially hard-hit; not just in Buffalo, but all across this country. And that has to be our goal.
So today, I’m proposing a Middle Class Recovery Act that does three things – focuses on jobs and infrastructure, education, and lowered taxes. On jobs and infrastructure, it’s all about embracing the new innovation economy. And it starts with something as simple as embracing ridesharing. Ridesharing is creating thousands of jobs, it’s promoting safety for passengers, it’s making transportation less expensive, it’s helpful for people who go out and may have a few drinks – it’s actually safer from a drunk driving point of view. It makes total sense. However, it’s not allowed in upstate New York because it requires a vote of the legislature. But meanwhile, it is allowed in downstate New York. This is one of those examples, my friends, where it is just an unfair duality. If it makes sense for downstate, it makes sense for upstate. Upstate is left out – it’s thousands of jobs, it’s more tourism, it’s cost-savings – it’s unfair to leave out upstate because remember: upstate matters. And that’s what I want you to tell your legislators when they come home – don’t come home to Buffalo unless you pass ridesharing for upstate New York.
To drive the economy, we need to invest in infrastructure. As a part of a $100 billion investment in infrastructure, we’re doing 10,000 miles of roads, 2,600 bridges; Niagara Falls we’ve relocated, renamed the Niagara Scenic Parkway. $30 million for the Scajaquada Expressway to reunite a long divided community that should have been done decades ago. Since 2012, we’ve invested 1.6 billion in western New York infrastructure. Route 219 Bridge, which we blew up which was very cool by the way, and finally, finally, finally, we have made the transformation of the Peace Bridge Plaza and we didn’t go to war with Canada over it either. The next step in infrastructure is going to be protecting our water system. We have two problems on the water system: we have an old infrastructure and there are actually health hazards in our water systems because we did a lot of manufacturing for a lot of years. There are a lot of toxins in the earth, which wind up in the groundwater, which have to be filtered. Especially for young children, they’re at risk – we need to take immediate action and I want to spend $2 billion to rebuild our water infrastructure across the state. We want to fund state of the art drinking water treatment systems that filter out all potential chemicals that could be toxic and dangerous. Failing infrastructure pipes and protect drinking water at its source. I want local communities to work together to come up with the best, most cost efficient way to do it and project that plan to the state.
Access to education is probably one of the most important things that were going to do this session, and I think it’s one of the most forward looking reforms. A generation ago, all you needed was a high school diploma and you really could lead a middle class life. If you were willing to work hard, and you went to high school, you could find a manufacturing job and you could do well and you could take care of your family and you would work your way up the ladder. That is not true anymore. 3.5 million jobs will require college by 2024. You need a college education to compete for most middle class jobs. The jobs that are coming back – and there are jobs that are coming back, why? Because a lot of corporations moved overseas because they wanted cheap labor. What happened was they found out that you get what you pay for because they went overseas, they got cheap labor and they want educated labor. Everything is about advanced manufacturing and advanced manufacturing is not manufacturing the way it was. It’s manufacturing with the mind.
I was in Tonawanda at the new GM Engine Plant where they rolled out a $300 million transformation for new engine construction. In walking through the plant, all new engines being build, you know what I didn’t see? Tools. No engines, no screw drivers – it’s all automation, and somebody at a computer terminal who is moving the automation. It is about the education and the place that is going to get those jobs that is coming back from overseas, is going to be the place that has the most educated workforce. The people who are going to do best are going to be the people who are most educated and college is going to be today, what high school was 75 years ago. That’s what college is. So everyone should have a college education. One problem. It is very, very expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it and a lot of people can’t afford the debt, which is staggering. You start with about $30 thousand in debt average in the state of New York. That’s why I want to lead the nation on a proposal whose time will come, but New York always gets there first – we should have tuition-free college in New York State for families who are making $125,000 or less because that is the future. The way we pay for high school we should say, the day has come that we will now pay for college and let New York have the most educated workforce in the country.
In Western New York, 85 percent of the families will quality for tuition-free, public college. This is a game-changer. This will say to every child in every home, “I have the hope to go to college. I have the hope to go to college. Doesn’t matter that mom and dad can’t pay. Doesn’t matter that I come from a poor place. I can go to college and if I can go to college, I will be a success.” Every child’s eyes will be open. Every child’s future will be open. Hope for everyone – and that’s what this country is supposed to be all about. Somewhere along the way, we lost our way, but New York is going to put us back on track and this is the proposal that is going to do it.
At the same time, we’re going to lower taxes. We’re going to focus once again on property taxes. Why? Median income tax for the state of New York for most people is $1,800. Property tax is $4,700. You’re upset about paying taxes? Don’t be upset at me. Two and a half times is local property taxes. We pay some of the highest property taxes in the United States of America and Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk in dollar amount pay the highest. But as a percentage of home value, upstate New York is the highest. Property taxes have to come down. “Well that’s just you, Andrew Cuomo.” No it’s not. It’s also another fellow named FDR who said, “The increase in real estate taxes are due wholly to the increase in the cost of local and not state government. These taxes in real estate are too high, local government has become guilty of great waste and duplication.”
That, my friends, is what we’re going to attack and that is what we are going to have to change. We passed the 2 percent property tax cap. That has worked great because it capped the growth in property taxes to 2 percent. They were going up 7, 8, 9 percent. It saved homeowners $16 billion, $1.6 billion in Western New York. A typical homeowner saved $2,600 from the property tax cap. But we want to go a step further and we want to have local governments work together to find the efficiencies that you have had to find in your house and I have had to find in my house and every family has had to find in their household budget and income. It’s time government is this responsible with your money as responsibly as the families of New York have to be.
I also propose further relief in a Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit – more than 200,000 families will see their tax benefits more than double on average. A Middle Class Recovery Act will impact the entire state, but we need to think regionally. Why? Because the old approach to economic development was to have one plan for the whole state. We don’t really have one economy in the whole state. New York State is very different. Long Island is different than the North Country and the North Country is different than Western New York. And what you really need to do is focus region by region and develop regional economies and that’s what we’ve been doing.
The Buffalo Billion strategy was that regional focus on steroids. My question in December was we basically came to the end of the Buffalo Billion program. We did very, very well. We exceeded expectations. What’s next? Where do we go from here? Buffalo Billion I is done. What is the direction forward? And it was in December, I was looking for inspiration and answers and I didn’t know where to go. So to find the answer, I went to the three wise men. I went first to Commissioner Howard Zemsky and Mayor Byron Brown, and County Executive Mark Poloncarz. And I said, “Please wise men, tell me. Where is the future of Western New York? And what do we do after Buffalo Billion I and how do we continue the growth? And their answer was as the Good Book says: “We look to the East for help.” I said thank you very much. I needed that. But it puts it back on me. So I wanted to find two other men... And I said…Oh, I’m sorry…Commissioner Howard Zemsky also added another pithy comment which is, “Pass Uber so I can get off this camel.” Which is so Howard, buy the way. But, just to be sure, I wanted to ask two other wise men what we should do. So I asked Niagara Falls Mayor Dyster and I asked Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, what do you think the future holds? And they say look to the north and look to the south because we need help, too.
Sam actually looks good on that camera. Dyster also said, “If you pass Uber, can I get Zemsky’s camel?” Because Zemsky has a good-looking camel. We put it all together and we designed ‘Buffalo Billion Squared,’ we can call it. Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion One and it takes Buffalo Billion Two, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential. And that’s why it’s Buffalo Billion Squared. The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.
First proposal: Grow tourism. It is a growth industry for us, it is working great. You saw that in the numbers. We’re going to open a Tourism Visitor’s Center on Grand Island, we opened one on Long Island, it is working great and we’re going to open one on Grand Island.
Proposal two: Support the extension of Buffalo’s Light Rail to Amherst which will directly connect to tens of thousands of jobs, the Light Rail’s extension to the DL and W railroad terminal will spur development and reinvigorate the Cobblestone District.
Buffalo Billion One did a lot of great work in the Inner and Outer Harbor and we want to build on that and the Outer Harbor will leverage open space recreational activities by creating a Visitor’s Center, bike path and redeveloping the Michigan Pier. We will establish the Buffalo Blueway to increase waterfront access by building 18 new docks, boat launches and establishing guides for visitors.
Buffalo Billion Squared also says while we’ve been focusing on generating the economy, and high tech jobs and advanced manufacturing jobs, it’s also important to make sure everyone is sharing in the success. Because the greatest feast has the largest number of people at the table and the greatest success is shared success. So we want to make sure every community is part of this renaissance. To revitalize Buffalo’s east side, we’ll establish commercial corridors and underutilized land to promote community growth, we’ll move the Buffalo Manufacturing Works to Buffalo’s east side which will bring jobs to the east side.
We will invest $10 million to clean up the zombie property issue and homesteading to revive and reinvent blighted areas on the east side and in Cheektowaga.
Mark Polancarz has been talking a long time about the Bethlehem Steel site and we will transform 1,000 acers into a new industrial park for advanced manufacturing so we’ll start to reuse that land.
10 million dollars for a workforce development plan to support job growth and ensure that we have the workforce that can meet the jobs that we are creating.
We will bring in the Say Yes to Education Program that has done magnificent work all across upstate New York but it continues to prepare students with a transition from high school to higher education and lets them know they’ll have a college education if they make it through.
We’ll invest in the Buffalo Niagara campus to catalyze Western New York’s burgeoning Life Science industry, which has already made great strides. We’ll acquire underutilized property in downtown Niagara Falls so we can free up that land that has been locked up for too long and actually have productive commercial activity developed on it that capitalizes on the growth.
We’re going to reclaim 135,000 acres of the Niagara Gorge corridor, preserving the rich ecology. It will be the largest expansion of green space since the days of Olmstead. Part of the gorge belongs to NYPA which committed $1 million dollars for conservation to that section of it. We will complete the ecological restoration of the gorge and we also understand that we need to generate more activities for tourists on the Niagara Falls side of the Falls. When you look across the river, you see Canada has more activities…we need to correct that and we’re going to do it in Niagara Falls. On Goat Island we will create a year-round destination for tourism and build a world-class lodge with sweeping views of the Niagara River.
ESD will also be issuing an RFP to build greater outdoor activities on Goat Island that will boost tourism and give people an international destination to visit. So we’re very excited about that. In Jamestown we’re going to leverage the cultural history and we will invest $5 million dollars to close the gap under the Lucille Ball comedy center. We think this is going to be a great tourist attraction. We want to be a part of it and congratulations Mayor Teresi. We will also provide $2.5 million dollars to help the city of Jamestown regain its economic stability. We’ll be doing that also as part of this plan. And we’ve had a successful downtown revitalization initiative program that we’ve run before. Western New York has many older downtown areas in many of its towns and we want to have a downtown revitalization specific plan for places like Alfred, Tarrance Center, East Aurora etc. to revitalize those downtown areas. We’ll be running it as a competition but we’ll fund it through Buffalo Billion two.
Now why? Why are we committed to Buffalo and why are we doubling down on our investment? Well first, I believe in the three Wiseman. They have done a really extraordinary job for all of us. I also believe in the other two Wiseman. I believe in the leadership of Buffalo. I believe in Buffalo’s growth. I believe in Buffalo’s potential. Most of all I believe in the people of Buffalo. And I’ll end where I started. Since I was coming here as a young man. The strength of the people of Buffalo, the loyalty, the intelligence, the determination, the values. The family values, the work values, the education values the ethic has been so impressive to me. And the way that you have responded and the resilience that you have shown when the state came with this investment. You make this happen. You make this happen. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t Howard Zemsky, it was Byron Brown is wasn’t Mark Poloncarz. The people of Buffalo and their love of Buffalo and Jamestown and Niagara Falls. Their commitment to Western New York where they said, I’m not giving up and we’re not going to fail. This is my home this is the Queen City and she’s coming back. And we’re not we’re not stopping until she does. That commitment, that energy that force is what I believe in. And that’s each and every person in this room. And you have proven it over and over again.
So I am going to propose in my budget that that state fund the Buffalo Billion plan in total and accepts all 20 proposals which will be $500 million dollars but I believe it’s an investment in the city of Buffalo and the State of New York and it will pay dividends and I am proud to advance this. And if we work together we will make it a reality and I believe the best is yet to be in Buffalo and you ain’t seen nothing yet! Thank you and god bless you.
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