State lawmakers promise that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s followup plan to the Buffalo Billion will be in for closer scrutiny than its first iteration. That’s fine. It’s even appropriate, given the circumstances – as long as it’s about how contracts are let and not whether the program should go forward.
It must go forward if Buffalo and the state are to get maximum bang for the bucks that Albany has already sent here to reignite the economy. Lawmakers need to finish the job. Western New York legislators who don’t actively push for adoption of this program risk the wrath of their constituents. It would be a disastrous dereliction.
Cuomo has proposed to direct another $500,000 to Buffalo to build on the results produced by Part I of the Buffalo Billion. The new program would work toward extending the Metro Rail line north and south, creating new access to the waterfront, redeveloping the DL&W Terminal, improving tourism, expanding the University at Buffalo’s Medical School, creating an investment hub on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and much more.
Many lawmakers from other parts of the state supported the Buffalo Billion program, announced in 2012, even knowing their own constituents were hungry for some government love, too. It was the right thing for them to do, given the persistent doldrums of the Buffalo economy and the drain that created on the state’s finances.
This time, though, lawmakers are expected to be less pliant in their response. The reason, at least in part, is because of accusations involving the original 2012 program.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the scourge of Albany corruption, secured indictments last year alleging bid rigging involving state construction projects, prominently including RiverBend, the giant building arising in South Buffalo and the key component of the Buffalo Billion.
Against that backdrop, lawmakers would be irresponsible not to look carefully at the program Cuomo has proposed to continue the job of reinventing the Western New York economy.
But lawmakers, who are lately on the outs with Cuomo, need to keep their political grievances out of their evaluation of the program. Indeed, lawmakers from around the state should be eager to wean Buffalo off the state dole as much as possible.
For decades, Buffalo was to New York taxpayers as a street beggar is to pedestrians. The city’s manufacturing-based economy had collapsed and its residents were fleeing to more economically welcoming places. And the costs of government continued to rise.
That dynamic has begun to turn, based in large part on the focused efforts of Cuomo through the Buffalo Billion. It was an adrenalin shot to the heart. The city is healing, but it isn’t yet out of intensive care. The governor’s proposal for Part II builds on the strengths of the first program.
That’s why this remains a valuable program, even in a difficult budget year. It will produce more taxpayers for the state and reduce the city’s reliance on Albany for funding. It’s a winner.
So, yes, an updated definition of due diligence is necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used appropriately. That should be the aim of lawmakers, especially those from Western New York. Area residents should be able to take their support for the program for granted.