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Buffalo Billion II is alive and well, legislators say, despite Cuomo fears

ALBANY – The second phase of the Buffalo Billion program faces an uncertain future because of the state Legislature, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo warns.

That is news to legislators. Signs of opposition are not easily found.

No legislators are seeking to erase the $500 million that Cuomo proposes for a new round of specially targeted economic development assistance for the Buffalo area, leaders of both houses say.

“Of course we support the funding, and so do our members of the region,’’ said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Same goes for Republicans who control the Senate.

“While we will be guided by our Western New York delegation, it’s safe to say we are not going to say ‘no’ to efforts to create jobs and grow the economy in Buffalo and Western New York,’’ said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

And rank-and-file members from Western New York say they don’t know why the governor is worried the money for the Buffalo Billion II might be struck from the budget.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve heard a very strong commitment from the Speaker and I know that our delegation is very strongly in support of it. So, I’m not sure where the concern is coming from,’’ said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat.

“I can’t imagine we’d say no,’’ Sen. Catharine Young, an Olean Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said when asked if the Senate GOP backs the $500 million Cuomo has proposed.

That’s not to say that lawmakers don’t have some questions about how the money will be spent.

“We want to make sure we are participating in the process. We know our districts better than anyone else and we want to make sure things are happening that are good in our communities, too,’’ Young said.

They also are seeking more oversight, after the state-funded construction of SolarCity’s plant at RiverBend became the target of federal prosecutors over how the project was awarded. The corruption case involves other upstate projects and has ensnared people close to Cuomo and developers, such as three former executives from Buffalo’s LPCiminelli construction and development firm.

“If members are asking questions or want more information or input, that doesn’t mean they don’t support it. They do, and strongly,’’ Whyland, the Heastie spokesman, said of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion II plan.

Legislators also may want more of a say in how the next $500 million is spent.

But the governor has accused lawmakers of wanting to turn the Buffalo Billion into a legislative pork barrel program. It is a charge he has leveled as legislators seek input into the state’s regional council economic development program, which gets advice from panels of academic and business volunteers in doling out $750 million around the state.

“I will stop the money before allowing it to be distributed as member items, because in my opinion, it’s a waste of money,” Cuomo said of the Buffalo Billion program during an appearance before a group of reporters and editors at The Buffalo News in January. “If they don’t want the Buffalo Billion, I will spend half of my remaining life in Buffalo talking to constituents and explaining how they did not fight for their constituents and their residents. That I can promise you.”

At that meeting, Cuomo predicted the Buffalo Billion II stood only a 50-50 chance of getting through the Legislature during the budget talks. Those negotiations are now fully engaged between Cuomo and legislative leaders. Cuomo had top lawmakers over to the governor’s mansion on Tuesday to discuss the fiscal plan.

While they support the $500 million for the next Buffalo Billion phase, lawmakers insist Cuomo should get input into how the projects are selected for the next big flow of funds.

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