Cuomo look­ing at pri­vate sec­tor to spur growth

Gover­nor urges busi­nesses to fol­low state’s Buf­falo Bil­lion in­vest­ment lead

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert J. McCarthy and David Robin­son

It doesn’t take much prod­ding for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to em­pha­size the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments fos­tered around Buf­falo by New York State.

He points to a bustling Canal­side, the Tesla/Pana­sonic plant fi­nanced by the “shock and awe” of his Buf­falo Bil­lion eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan, and the Richard­son Olm­sted Cam­pus on the city’s West Side – all jump-started by state in­vest­ment.

And dur­ing a Wed­nes­day visit to The Buf­falo News, Cuomo said the newly adopted state bud­get will con­tinue those ef­forts. But its $12.7 bil­lion for projects around the re­gion, he said, must now spur the pri­vate sec­tor to match and sur­pass the state’s in­vest­ment.

“The Buf­falo Bil­lion, in some ways, was a blunt in­stru­ment ... fo­cused on get­ting the fun­da­men­tal econ­omy run­ning,” he said. “It is suc­cess­ful. Now let’s be more so­phis­ti­cated in our ap­proach. Let’s be more nu­anced. Let’s be more re­fined.”

In­deed, the gover­nor said he ex­pects the pri­vate sec­tor to fol­low the state’s lead. He thinks pri­vate busi­ness will log­i­cally fol­low to con­tinue in­vest­ing at Canal­side, Tesla/ Pana­sonic and the Richard­son com­plex that is now pro­posed for fur­ther ex­pan­sion.

His eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment czar, Howard A. Zem­sky, said new ideas be­yond the Ho­tel Henry at the former psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal will nat­u­rally fol­low the state’s $76.5 mil­lion in­vest­ment – and they should em­anate from the pri­vate sec­tor.

“The idea is not to have the pub­lic sec­tor per­pet­u­ally car­ry­ing the bur­den of fi­nanc­ing,” Zem­sky said, prompt­ing the gover­nor to de­fine his own vi­sion for the state’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment strat­egy.

“Govern­ment’s role is to pro­vide the seed cap­i­tal so the pri­vate mar­ket will say: ‘Oh, there’s an op­por­tu­nity here,’ ” Cuomo said. “And the pri­vate sec­tor is driv­ing de­vel­op­ment in Buf­falo.”

Dur­ing a lengthy meet­ing with edi­tors and re­porters of The News, the gover­nor also touched on a num­ber of other sub­jects, in­clud­ing:

New Bills sta­dium

To ren­o­vate or build new for the Buf­falo Bills is the big­money ques­tion loom­ing over the foot­ball team and the re­gion.

And Cuomo – who likely would have to be on board with pro­vid­ing the large amount of state money that would likely be part of any pro­ject – wasn’t tip­ping his hand Wed­nes­day on whether he prefers one op

tion or the other.

“That’s not a big thing. That’s a gi­nor­mous thing,” he said, not­ing that the state has sup­ported pre­vi­ous ren­o­va­tions of New Era Field.

“The im­prove­ments in the sta­dium were a big deal,” Cuomo said. “We were very ac­tive in keep­ing the Bills here.”

But as to whether he prefers the more costly op­tion of build­ing a sta­dium or the lower-priced al­ter­na­tive of ren­o­vat­ing New Era Field, he wasn’t say­ing.

In­stead, Cuomo de­ferred to Zem­sky, who said he would wait to see the re­sults of the re­search now be­ing done on the sta­dium is­sue for Bills own­ers Kim and Terry Peg­ula.

“What comes up in the fu­ture, we’ll deal with it then,” Cuomo said.

Tesla jobs

Cuomo would slap Tesla Inc. with a $41.2 mil­lion penalty if the com­pany doesn’t meet its job cre­ation promises at its so­lar panel fac­tory in Buf­falo by next April.

But the gover­nor said that he has seen no in­di­ca­tion Tesla will miss its next bench­mark.

“They’re ahead of sched­ule,” Cuomo said.

The elec­tric ve­hi­cle maker is ahead of its job promises at the RiverBend fac­tory, where the 700 cur­rent em­ploy­ees be­tween Tesla and Pana­sonic top Tesla’s com­mit­ment to em­ploy 500 peo­ple by April 2019. The state spent $750 mil­lion to build and par­tially equip the fac­tory.

But that job com­mit­ment jumps to 1,460 peo­ple by April 2020 – roughly dou­ble the fac­tory’s cur­rent work­force at a time when Tesla’s so­lar en­ergy busi­ness is shrink­ing and the so­lar roof prod­uct it is count­ing on as the Buf­falo fac­tory’s main prod­uct isn’t ex­pected to reach full pro­duc­tion un­til late this year.

“A con­tract is a con­tract,” Cuomo said.

“The way we struc­tured this trans­ac­tion, it’s not a goal, and it’s nice if you make it . ... It’s a bench­mark. If you don’t make it, you pay us back,” Cuomo said. “Right now, they’re ahead of their goal.”

Vac­cine ex­emp­tions

Cuomo said his of­fice is re­search­ing the le­gal­ity of leg­is­la­tion that would elim­i­nate the re­li­gious ex­emp­tion that al­lows peo­ple to opt out of vac­ci­na­tions for measles and other dis­eases.

In the wake of an out­break of measles in the lower Hud­son Val­ley and New York City, state leg­is­la­tors have filed a bill that would re­peal the ex­emp­tion for vac­ci­na­tions due to re­li­gious be­liefs. The vac­ci­na­tions for sev­eral dis­eases, in­clud­ing measles, are re­quired for chil­dren to en­ter school. Ac­cord­ing to Rock­land County, 82 per­cent of the 173 con­firmed cases of measles there have oc­curred in peo­ple who have not been vac­ci­nated.

“It’s go­ing to be a le­gal ques­tion, it’s go­ing to be a con­sti­tu­tional ques­tion. It’s go­ing to be free­dom of reli­gion, it’s go­ing to be First Amend­ment,” Cuomo said. “We’re look­ing at it now, but it’s go­ing to be a pure le­gal ques­tion.”

He said if leg­is­la­tion is passed and he signs it, he would have to be­lieve that it is con­sti­tu­tional and that the state can de­fend any chal­lenges in court.

“It’s less of a pub­lic health ques­tion to me, it’s more of a le­gal, con­sti­tu­tional ques­tion,” he said.

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

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