Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster and City Administrator Donna Owens traveled to Albany to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 state of the state address firsthand.
Following the governor’s speech, Dyster said he came away with a feeling that while New York is facing significant challenges — including an expensive recovery from Hurricane Sandy — there are things that have been accomplished under Cuomo that the state can build on moving forward.
“I think the mood in the room was very positive,” Dyster said Wednesday evening. “I think people understood that the governor has some big challenges ahead of him, but there was a lot of discussion about how the business climate in New York is starting to show signs of turning around and a lot of discussion about how the state has been more business friendly and how the regional economic development councils had exceeded expectations. I think the governor was trying to say ‘let’s take pride in our accomplishments, while acknowledging that there is still a lot to work on.”
“The overall thing for me was the reaffirmation that upstate New York still needs help,” Dyster added.
During last year’s state of the state address, Cuomo unveiled plans to offer the so-called “Billion for Buffalo” package which he said would pump $1 billion in economic development support for Buffalo and the Western New York area. He also directed the creation of the so-called regional economic development councils — working groups of officials charged with developing plans for growth in specific regions across the state. The councils compete with one another for economic development funding based on the soundness of their plans.
This year, Dyster said he got a sense that Cuomo remains committed to the effort even though the state is reeling from the impact of a costly cleanup for communities ravaged by Sandy. He said he was also encouraged by several new economic development initiatives for upstate touted by Cuomo, including Market NY, a new effort aimed at better promoting products made in the state and a $5 million advertising competition that will provide additional marketing money to regions that come up with the best campaigns for promoting local assets.
“There were a number of initiatives that he mentioned that could be very helpful to us in principle,” Dyster said. “We want to take a look at the specifics of the proposals to see where we fit in.”
Dyster said it was not made clear just exactly where Niagara Falls and Western New York may fit in under Cuomo’s vision for expanded casino gaming in the Empire State.
Cuomo announced his intention to push the state legislature to approve expansion of “destination resorts and casino gaming,” saying his plan directly involves the development of three casinos in Upstate New York. Under the proposal, Cuomo said gaming revenue from the facilities would be split with 90 percent being used to support education and 10 percent going to assist with property tax relief.
State lawmakers are expected to consider final passage of a constitutional amendment that would legalize Las Vegas-style gaming in New York. A referendum on the proposed amendment could be presented to voters in November.
On Wednesday, Cuomo proposed a “phase one” plan focused on the three upstate casinos, suggesting it would more visitors from downstate and other states to upstate communities. Under his proposal, a gaming commission would decide where to locate the casinos.
Dyster said state officials offered no indication Wednesday whether one of those facilities would eventually be located in Western New York, an area where the Seneca Nation of Indians currently enjoys exclusivity on Class III gaming.
Dyster said he was not surprised by the lack of specificity, suggesting the state may not want to discuss casino plans in detail it heads to arbitration in hopes of resolving the highly publicized dispute over gaming revenues with the Seneca Nation.
“He was ambiguous with regards the question of whether casinos would be located within the (gaming) compact area,” Dyster said.
The governor’s remarks drew generally favorable responses from state lawmakers representing Niagara County, including state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and state Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston. Both men lauded Cuomo for his pro-job stance, while noting that much more work must be done in 2013, especially in Western New York.
Maziarz noted that the state accomplished much under Cuomo’s leadership in 2012, including the on-time state budget and the enactment of a property tax cap. Maziarz touted Cuomo’s stated intentions to develop the so-called NY Green Bank, which invest $1 billion in financing clean energy projects, and his plans to extend the NY-Sun Program, an initiative that provides incentives to expand solar energy, through 2023. Maziarz called 2013 an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to continue the momentum by focusing on “common ground as opposed to political agendas.”
“Gov. Cuomo set forth a very aggressive and in-depth agenda for 2013,” Maziarz said. “I am looking forward to hearing more about his specific proposals and augmenting it with the senate’s agenda to provide the citizens of this state with policies that they deserve. Now is the time for us to ensure that we take this state to the next level in a way that is best for the people.”
Ceretto said he too was encouraged by Cuomo’s economic development plans, saying now is the time for New York’s leaders to “focus like a laser” on improving the Empire State’s “woeful business climate.”
“These policies, combined with a commitment to hold the line on taxes and reduce energy costs, will help create a more robust economy in Western New York,” Ceretto said.