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There are elements of political theater to this, sure. But there’s an extent to which political theater can matter.

Buffalo looks for details of its billion

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While Governor Cuomo's State of the State pledge to spend $1 billion dollars on Buffalo's economic recovery got a big splash, western New Yorkers are looking for details. And some think the money is far from a sure thing. The Innovation Trail's Daniel Robison has more.

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Calling Buffalo “a struggling area of the state,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told those gathered in Albany that the one billion dollars is the missing puzzle piece for a city he also declared have talent and a strong willing workforce. But before Buffalo clears its economic hurdles, the billion dollar package must clear the legislature. Passing the bill could be an uphill battle, says Brian Sampson with the business advocacy group Unshackle Upstate, but it’s indicative the governor is trying help.

“Like most things, the devil will be in the details. But if what we heard today is reflected in the budget, upstate New Yorkers have a lot of good things to look forward to,”

The one billion dollar promise comes with no specifics as to what it is or how it will be spent. The assumption is that it’s a mix of tax breaks and incentives aimed to convince companies to ignore Buffalo’s bad business reputation and set up shop here, so says Brian Sampson, with business advocacy group Unshackle Upstate.

“It’s going to be put on the street to leverage private sector dollars to create more jobs. And hopefully as those people get employed they’re going to reinvest in their own communities. That’s how you’re going to build your way out of the economic malaise that exists right now,” Sampson says.

A quarter century ago a similar program was launched in a hobbling Albany, which now reaps the rewards of a bustling nanotech industry. But the one billion for Buffalo has to pass through a downstate-heavy legislature.

“Is it going to be an uphill push? You bet.”

But Sampson says in the horse trading of the budget process, upstate’s interests might stand a chance this year, because Cuomo made sure to include a little of something for everybody all around the state.

The hope for the $1 billion is this: businesses will feel lured to Buffalo based on freebies and tax incentives offered by the state to make that move more attractive financially. That environment could create jobs, a restored tax base and a renaissance that’s evaded the city for 50 years. But it may sound like déjà vu for locals, says University at Buffalo Political Science Professor Jim Battista. He says Albany has a history of overpromising and not being able to deliver.

“Why engage in theater that makes it sounds like you’re being arguably more generous than you are? Because who doesn’t want to be seen as being more generous than [he/she is]?” Battista says. There are elements of political theater to this, sure. But there’s an extent to which political theater can matter.”

The announcement and attention from Cuomo will help long neglected upstaters feel connected to Albany, Battista says. But in this era of hyper-attention to the spending of taxpayer money, he says citizens could also wonder how a cash-strapped state can afford to promise one billion to Buffalo.

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