They are his boldest ideas and his proudest accomplishments — but lately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development initiatives are generating trouble faster than jobs.
The Buffalo Billion, the Democratic governor’s plan to revive the state’s second largest city, is under federal investigation and plagued by cash flow problems. Start-Up NY, which aims to attract new companies, has produced meager results. And a third program that offers tax credits to companies that create new jobs was sharply criticized by a recent audit.
Until recently, Cuomo regularly touted these programs as helping to reverse decades of decline and stagnation. But the string of troubles has put the usually self-assured governor on the defensive.
“I think the criticism is very unfair and ironic,” Cuomo said about the response to Start-Up’s lackluster performance. “The program has been in operation a couple of years. It takes time.”
Overall, the state’s economy has improved since Cuomo took office in 2011. Unemployment is down and job numbers are up throughout the state. But the struggles facing Cuomo’s signature initiatives are giving fresh material to critics who say his programs were always meant to promote Cuomo more than the economy.
Start-Up created tax-free enterprise zones at colleges and universities in a bid to attract entrepreneurs. According to a report quietly released late on the Friday before the July Fourth weekend — three months after it was originally due — the program has created only 408 jobs so far. The 159 companies participating are projected to generate 4,100 jobs by 2020.
Despite Cuomo’s insistence that Start-Up has cost taxpayers “nothing,” the state spent $53 million on ads to promote the program. Forty percent of the commercials ran in-state — a fact seized on by critics who say Start-Up has been a waste of money.
The Buffalo Billion, meanwhile, remains mired in problems of a different kind. The program injected $1 billion into the economy of the state’s second largest city, with much of it focused on SolarCity’s plan to build the nation’s largest solar panel factory.
In April, Cuomo’s office announced that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating potential conflicts of interest and improper bidding related to the Buffalo Billion as well as Nano, a related effort to attract high-tech jobs.
“It’s really a confluence of bad things happening all at once: the federal investigation, the report saying Start-Up created only 408 jobs,” said Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio. “It must be making Cuomo crazy.”