Cuomo Defends Billon for Buffalo Pledge

4:41 PM, Feb 18, 2012   |    comments
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Photo Courtesy AP

Jill Terreri
Democrat and Chronicle

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his pledge of $1 billion in state help for Buffalo during a stop in Rochester on Friday, and said that he is committed to equitable state aid for the Flower City.

"Buffalo has a greater need than you have," Cuomo said during a meeting with the Democrat and Chronicle editorial board. "We're one state, we're one balance sheet. If Buffalo's not doing well, you're going to pay for it anyway."

Cuomo's pledge of economic development funding for Buffalo, made during his State of the State address in January, caught some criticism in Rochester.

Rochester boosters have long believed, correctly or not, that Buffalo is treated better by Albany. They point to a state aid formula that grants Rochester less per person than Buffalo and Syracuse. In a contest for economic development funds, which pitted region against region, Rochester received $69 million, to Buffalo's $100 million and Syracuse's $104 million. Rochester's poverty levels are comparable to those in other upstate cities, and the news of Eastman Kodak Co.'s bankruptcy has cast a pall. However, the city has led upstate in job growth.

Mayor Thomas Richards on Thursday mentioned Buffalo during a discussion of the structural financial problems that cities around the country face, such as unfunded mandates, pension costs and stagnant tax revenues.

"Buffalo is under a control board now, which is basically a form of receivership, been there for seven years and they can't figure out how to get out of it," Richards said during a speech to the Monroe County Bar Association.

"And we run a controlled experiment in New York about the difference between changing the structure and economic development, and Buffalo's a perfect example," he said. "They've been giving them money right and left for a long time and they're still broke, and if they give them another billion dollars, they'll still be broke. Because we're not dealing with the problem, we're dealing with some other kind of problem that we would rather deal with."

Cuomo, when asked about the concerns of Rochester residents about the aid for Buffalo, said disparaging economic development money for Buffalo is "shortsighted."

"I think it doesn't reflect our sense of community and our sense of unity in this state," he said. "First, Rochester should be happy that they're not in the condition that Buffalo is in."

Cuomo is familiar with the lower state aid Rochester receives relative to other upstate cities and he has heard the case made for the city by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Rochester's former mayor.

"I think there's merit to it and it's something we are looking at but that is not at Buffalo's expense or anything else," he said. "People of Rochester should be treated fairly and these allocations of state resources among cities are very important and very controversial.

"I am 100 percent in favor of making sure that Rochester gets its fair share," he said.

The city is receiving $28 million in accelerated state aid in Cuomo's budget, but the impact may be reduced to $15.4 million.

Cuomo covered a wide range of topics during his visit on Friday, including the window in which he would not veto revised maps drawn by the state Legislature, though he predicted that the matter would be decided by the courts.

Rochester officials, including Richards, have been critical of the proposed lines, saying city and county interests will be diluted in the state Senate. The proposed maps divide the county into six districts, many of which are based elsewhere. The city's largest employer, the University of Rochester, will be represented by a senator from a Buffalo suburb, under the proposal.

Cuomo said he would veto the lines as they are, but said there are three conditions under which he would approve them.
He said the lines must be more fair, "less hyper political" than they are now. Also, the state Legislature must commit to passing a constitutional amendment. Lastly, a law must be passed to reform the system, in case a constitutional amendment, which requires passage over two years, is never passed.

"I think that is the optimum you could have," he said.
Cuomo's spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said later that the law would not call for an independent redistricting panel. It is unclear what reforms to the system the law would implement.

Cuomo has been trying to change the conversation about state finances, he said, from how much needs to be cut to how much the state spends, and how that money could be used differently.
Cuomo said he expects to negotiate with the Buffalo Bills, which are expected to ask the state for as much as $100 million to stay at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.

"We can be a part of it," Cuomo said of the effort to keep the Bills in Buffalo, without specifying how much he would be willing to commit. "Do I understand they're important? Yes."

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