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Top 10: Regional council madness

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
Following the announcement of 10 regional councils during his State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to Buffalo to promote the plan - but details of where funding would come from, and who would be in charge, didn't come until July.

Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off 2011 with a State of the State address that promoted a “transformational plan for a new New York.” 

A key element of that plan: burnishing New York’s “business-friendly” image, and creating jobs

Cuomo’s big plan for job creation was to create a set of 10 “regional councils,” overseen by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, which would each develop a plan to revitalize their region's economy. Those plans would then be pitted against each other, with the winning regions taking home big chunks of state money, and the losing councils getting a fraction of the total $1 billion in cash and incentives.

The build-up

The councils received early support from the pro-business community, but the administration dragged its feet on announcing the details of the plan. 

How much money the councils would be able to compete for, and where the cash would come from, was finally announced in late July, with the names of the council members coming at the end of July.

The councils were given until mid-November to gather public input and compile plans. But they got off to a rocky start, with several early meetings closed to the public.  The Innovation Trail’s Marie Cusick reported for New York NOW that some economic experts questioned whether the councils would mean anything at all, in the, in the face of the larger reforms necessary to boost the state’s economy:

In September, the Innovation Trail took a closer look at the councils, and found that they were facing multiple challenges as they attempted to carve out a place for their region in New York’s economic future. 

Emma Jacobs reported that the regional approach isn’t novel at all – that practically every governor since Andrew Cuomo’s father Mario, has attempted some form of the councils.  Daniel Robison learned that conflict of interest is inevitable when the region’s top job creators are gathered together to develop plans to bring home economic development cash. 

And Zack Seward followed the money, finding that much of the cash devoted to the council project isn’t cash at all – it’s $800 million worth of perks like loan guarantees, carved out of existing budgets at agencies ranging from the Canal Corporation to Homes and Community Renewal.

The reveal

When the governor did finally unveil which four councils would receive $40 million apiece (in cash) to execute their plans – and which councils would have to split the remaining $40 million – it was a spectacle.  The governor brought in CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo to host the glossy proceedings at Albany’s Egg Theater on December 8:

In all, 720 projects will be funded through the councils.  The big winners were central New York, the North Country, Long Island, and western New York, each bringing home packages of more than $100 million in cash and prizes.

The governor also announced that day that he and legislative leaders had brokered an agreement to offer a second round of funding – but how much will be on the table remains to be determined.

Your turn

What would you like to see the regional councils tackle in the New Year? Let us know in the comments, or talk back to us on Facebook.

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