Cuomo implores WNY to rally behind budget

Jan 25, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo called on western New Yorkers to adopt his vision as their own during a visit to Buffalo Wednesday.

But questions surrounding his latest budget proposal are coming from more than one direction.

The first term Democrat has barnstormed the state since unveiling his budget last week.

During these drop-ins, Cuomo repeats the broad strokes of his spending plan, but tweaks the message for that day’s host community.

The state’s second largest city heard the governor again promise to send a $1 billion to spur economic growth, but this time it was tinged with a message of self empowerment.

“Change begins with the man in the mirror ... [With] a billion dollars, we’re going to turn around Buffalo. You know who it starts with? It starts with you!” Cuomo roared. “You have to wake up and say, ‘You know what? I believe in this city. I believe in this region. I’m not going to talk about the past. I’m going to talk about the future!”

“Why Buffalo?”

The governor strong language and cadence were necessary in part because he needs Buffalonians to carry the billion dollar torch with him. Wednesday he admitted the economic development pledge has landed him in hot water elsewhere.

“I’ve been roundly criticized from other parts of the state. That say, ‘Why Buffalo? Why not here? Why not this town? Why not that town? Why not my town?’ It’s very simple: Because Buffalo needs assistance,” he thundered.

For the $1 billion to pass through a potentially skeptical legislature, Cuomo called upon Buffalonians to adopt the plan with their own sense of purpose. In other words, the popular governor may not be able to accomplish this task alone and needs western New Yorkers to brandish the kind of enthusiasm that makes it hard for Albany to say no.

“I did what I can do … But change starts when you decide to make the change,” he says.

“Still a lot of mystery”

But some critics have pointed out there’s few specifics to rally behind or attempt to refute. The proposal remains somewhat veiled and/or simply haven’t been written yet.

“There’s still a lot of mystery,” says Assemblyman Sean Ryan. “This isn’t going to happen tomorrow. And if it does happen tomorrow, it’s probably a bad thing. So we have to go slow and easy on this to develop a plan that’s going to work.”

Yet some legislators think the proposal is unlikely to meet headwinds in Albany, says Mark Grisanti, a state senator from Niagara Falls.

“I don’t think there’s going to be resistance. If the governor senses some resistance he may just write it into his budget through a program bill or something like that and we’ll get it forward. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem getting through the legislature,” he says.

A presumed author of the $1 billion plan will be Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who pointed out Wednesday the billion would be the largest state investment in his city in 50 years. That fact prompted the governor to continue his “billion for Buffalo” wordplay that’s been so effective in getting his message out.

“That is a ‘b’ for Brown, for Byron, for Bills, for a billion and for Buffalo,” Cuomo joked.

Cuts also in store

If things go according to Cuomo’s plan, Buffalo will see a tenth of the billion that in 2012 as a down payment, while the city’s public and private sector write a plan good enough to convince the governor to send the rest.

Throughout his speech Wednesday, Cuomo highlighted what he’s promising to bring to Buffalo - not what could be taken away. Under the latter category is $100 million in annual funding for leading cancer researcher Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Cuomo was mum on his budget’s threat to eliminate the hospital’s state support by 2014.

“There’s nothing immediate that’s going to happen from the state side. We’re talking about two years, so we have two years to figure it out,” Cuomo told reporters.

Expect less patience from Roswell Park officials, who plan to lobby in the months ahead to change the governor’s mind.