BUFFALO, NY - New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo was in Buffalo today presenting his budget to WNY.
Before a standing room only crowd of about 800, jammed into a ballroom at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Cuomo, now in his second year in office, ran down a litany of accomplishments in his first.
"We did the budget on time and closed a $10 billion spending gap. We enacted the first ever property tax cap...we passed an affordable energy policy with re-charge New York...and we lead the nation, I'm proud to say, when we passed marriage equality for all New Yorkers," the Governor said.
$1 Billion For Buffalo:
Cuomo says much more needs to be done, and of course spoke at length about the $1 billion in economic incentives he'll extend to entice business to Western New York.
Some, however, have expressed the concern that now matter the enticements, businesses will be reluctant to come unless the state changes policies which drove them away in the first place...namely high taxes and regulations.
In response, Cuomo told WGRZ-TV, "On the state wide level we're working on exactly that. We call it 'New York Open for Business', and we're changing the attitude and the culture of the state, reducing taxes, regulations, and just making us more business friendly."
Legalized Gaming, Not Just For Indians Anymore:
Cuomo is also wagering the state's fortunes can be improved by expanding legalized gambling beyond state authorized racetrack racinos.
"What's a racino? It's a casino with an 'R'," Cuomo said to muted laughter from the crowd, noting racinos scattered across the state currently contain more slot machines than can be found in Atlantic City.
But he says the potential for revenue to the cash strapped state is no laughing matter, and is calling on state legislators to lift long standing prohibitions against full fledged casinos and let voters decide in a referendum whether to allow them.
"Let's acknowledge the reality. We're in the business anyway, lets do it right and lets make the money," Cuomo said.
In his prepared remarks, the Governor made no mention of the ongoing squabble with Indian nations who claim permitting casinos in New York would harm the ones they currently operate, and that the continued reference of racinos as "casinos" violates their existing casino compact with the state.
As well, some of Cuomo's staunchest supporters seem reluctant to embrace casinos.
"I'm not a big fan of casino gaming. I don't really think it's the silver bullet people say it's going to be," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "We're still going to be working with the small businesses which are truthfully the job creators in this community and I don't think that casinos are necessarily that," Poloncarz said.
The Bills Stadium Lease:
Erie County leaders are hopeful that stadium improvements, needed in order to secure a new lease deal for the Buffalo Bills, will be paid for by the state.
Cuomo's budget initially raised hopes the state would pay the up to $100 million dollar tab, because it had an $84 million dollar line for economic development initiatives including "the retention of professional football in Western New York."
That was, until Two On Your Side revealed those particular funds, amounting to only $3 million, actually reflected the state's final payment for the stadium improvements made to keep the Bills here in 1997.
"After the major investments that New York State did with the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, they need to come up to the plate and help with a major investment to keep the Bills in Buffalo," said Poloncarz.
"Money is tight, the taxpayers are not in a position to be shelling out more money," said Cuomo. "We're going to great lengths to bring efficiencies to this state budget, but the Bills are important and I want to be a big part of keeping them here."
In perhaps his strongest words yet on the topic, the Governor urged unions and schools to come to terms on a new teacher evaluation system, and not just because failing to do so could jeopardize federal school aid.
Cuomo's proposed budget of $132.5 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, includes a 4% increase in state aid to schools. However, he said the money won't be coming unless he sees some progress.
"If you don't have an evaluation system, you're not going to get that money, period," Cuomo said.
The Fire and Brimstone Pep Talk:
Much as he did when he came here last year to present his budget plans, Gov. Cuomo urged Buffalo to stop wallowing in the past.
"You need to say, 'I'm tired of talking about the good old days and what Buffalo was, and when we had steel mills, and when we had this, and when we did that.' That was yesterday!" Cuomo shouted, his voice rising to be heard over applause. "We're not gonna build back Buffalo to what it was. We're gonna build it to a height we've never reached before."
Click on the video player at the top of this page to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dooley O'Rourke