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Buffalo Billion II carries opportunities and concerns

NYS Governor's Office

With the passage of the state budget, lawmakers have approved the Buffalo Billion II, the second wave of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's economic development plan for Western New York.  The $400 million in state dollars will help boost some high-profile projects. But there are those who believe the program's lack of transparency makes it vulnerable to corruption.

"I think its great, the continued investment in Western New York. Certainly welcome it," Assemblyman Ray Walter, echoing the sentiments of most of the region's state delegation, though he holds some reservations.

"My concern really is that there's no accountability from the governor on this program. It's just a lump sum of $400 million in the budget. He has total discretion over it."

Some officials and developers involved in projects funded by the original Buffalo Billion face corruption charges.

Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Assemblywoman and ally of Governor Cuomo, was quick to defend the original investment that included money for the SolarCity plant. 

"I like the idea of the solar plant because once that's up and running, there's going to be jobs for people for quite some time. That's the direction that technology is taking us, that's the kind of economy we should be establishing," Peoples-Stokes said. 

"You can never replace the Buffalo steel mills but this is a way."

State Senator Tim Kennedy, also a Democrat, was equally enthusiastic. The economic development efforts, he believes, have an intangible effect beyond the boost in construction jobs. 

"Now, we're seeing the millennials coming back. We're seeing them stay and people that have left come back to our community," Kennedy said. "It's enlightening, but it's exciting and we are thrilled to support the Buffalo Billion-squared."

Governor Cuomo will be in Buffalo Tuesday morning at which time he is expected to expand on his economic development plans.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.