Touring Buffalo Billion, Cuomo Says He Has No Idea About Federal Probes

Sep 18, 2015

Credit Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in an address before the state’s business leaders Friday in Lake George, promoted his economic development plans, including the Buffalo Billion initiative, and fended off questions on reports that some of the projects are under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Cuomo, who was well received by business leaders meeting at the Sagamore resort on Lake George, gave a power point presentation focusing on his successes in building up the upstate economy, including the Buffalo Billion project, which has received praise and credit for helping turn around the state’s second largest city.

“Buffalo was the most pessimistic community about their economic future five years ago,” said Cuomo. “Today, Buffalo is the most optimistic, tied with Manhattan.”

But putting a damper on the rosy picture painted by the governor are reports, including one in  the New York Post , that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating the awarding of state contracts to businesses involved in the Buffalo Billion project, including the massive Solar City factory and other projects, possibly with an eye toward campaign contributions to the governor.

Cuomo, speaking with reporters afterward,  says he isn’t aware of any probe.

“I have no idea,” said Cuomo who said no one from his office has been subpoenaed.

The governor says he’s also unaware of a report in the New York Daily News that says SUNY Polytechnic College, which is involved in some of the business deals, has also been subpoenaed, and has hired a criminal defense attorney. But he says he has “total confidence” in the leader of the Polytechnic Institute, Alain Kaloyeros.

And the governor warns not to read too much into any investigations.

“I was the former Attorney General,” Cuomo sad. “You can have investigations. That does not mean there’s any there there or that anyone did anything wrong.”

The State’s Republican Party Chairman, Ed Cox, who attended the Business Council meeting and heard Cuomo’s speech, says he disagrees with policy to award the bulk of the billion dollars slated for Buffalo to Elon Musk’s Solar City company.

“Why is $750 million of taxpayers' funds going into building a building  and equipping it that’s going to produce one product, yet untested commercially, and the company is owned by a billionaire," Cox said. “That does not make sense for economic development.”

As for campaign contributions from developers who receive state funds, Cox says there should be greater disclosure in real time so that everyone can determine if there’s a conflict of interest.

Cuomo also pitched his $15 minimum wage increase proposal to business leaders, saying it will include sweeteners like tax breaks to offset costs.

“You could wind up with a win-win here,” Cuomo told them.

One day earlier, the president of the state’s Business Council said her group is working to include some of those offsets in a minimum wage bill that has a chance of passing in the state legislature in 2016.  

The governor says he can’t immediately raise the minimum wage for state workers, though, unless he renegotiates union contracts.