In 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo created 10 regional councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth for their regions. Supporters touted the programs as robust economic development strategy. Cuomo is so protective of the program, he says he'd rather shut it down than relinquish control to lawmakers.
According to the New York Daily News, Cuomo lashed out at lawmakers from both houses during an appearance in Syracuse, accusing them of opposing the councils because most of the money goes upstate through a competitive process that excludes them.
Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett says relations between the governor and the legislature are probably at an all-time low. "The governor ended what's known as the member item process, which was legislative grants that went to their districts, that the legislators themselves steered to their districts. He ended any new grants upon taking office and he hasn't revisited that. And they call the Regional Economic Development Councils nothing more than pork barrel spending that's controlled by the governor, except for him it's $750 million, so they're not happy with that."
Cuomo said he would rather end the program than give legislators a say in how the money is spent. "Meanwhile, the Assembly Economic Development Committee Chairman, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who's from Erie County, he kinda took a poke back at the governor. He said that the Regional Councils have paid out $4.6 billion since their creation in 2011 and yet, they're not created in law, they're not created by executive order, they just are, and at the very least they should be subject to the same legal ethics and disclosure laws as other agencies and bodies. He pointed to the corruption scandals that have hit many of the governor's upstate economic development project through the SUNY Polytechnic Institute and he says part of that was because they relaxed the oversight rules that had been in place before that, and he kind of said facetiously, Schimminger did, 'I'd like to protect the governor from having the same kind of things happening again.'"
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says while the local development projects that Cuomo has advanced have been his hallmark for his economic development strategies, they've also been the focus of the U.S. Atorney's investigations of late. "Humans are putting together the programs. There's always gonna be things that require us to go back and work on them some more. I mean, democracy itself is a work in progress. But the important things are the public accountability of the program, and that starts with openness. And where some of these scandals have unfolded and controversies around these economic development programs, is really been based in my view on the opacity of the program, not the transparency of the program. And so hopefully, when they hit the 'reset' button on all of these programs, there'll be greater transparency and public accountability."
Cuomo raised lawmakers’ ire when he opted to take his State of the State address on a six-region tour that highlighted initiatives at venues across New York.