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NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo shakes money tree, announcing $2.25 billion in taxpayer funding for REDC projects, Hunger Games wish lists of upstate regions.
NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo shakes money tree, announcing $2.25 billion in taxpayer funding for REDC projects, Hunger Games wish lists of upstate regions.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 10) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo shook the official state money tree Thursday, handing out $2.25 billion in taxpayer funds for everything from “literary public art” and cooking classes to an eco-friendly LGBT center and a exhibit on African-American beauty.

Some of the big ticket items included a $2 million “Institute for Veterans” at Syracuse University, $6.1 million for a “nano-cyber Innovation Accelerator Center” at SUNY IT in Marcy, and $2 million for a “Hologram Comedy Club” in Jamestown.

There was also money to build hotels and ski lodges, buy equipment for businesses, and for hiring executive directors at struggling nonprofit arts groups. In Schenectady, a local group is getting $100,000 for an arboretum — described by supporters as an outdoor “tree museum” — on the same Mohawk River site as the new gambling casino and a working nuclear reactor operated by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The Regional Economic Development Council money will also go for more conventional uses like sewer and water improvements, public works projects, and the state’s well established program of paying generous subsidies to try to stop businesses and jobs from fleeing New York.

The Literary Public Art will send $40,950 to a Buffalo arts center to pay for creating five artworks on the city’s faded industrial history. The cooking classes will total $3.2 million, primarily for training “special populations” in culinary arts. The $500,000 in LGBT money will pay for a gay and lesbian community center in Suffolk County. The “Ebony Fashion Fair” exhibit at the University of Rochester is part of $139,000 earmarked for African-American arts projects there and in New York City.

Cuomo said the REDCs in Central New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier would each get an extra $500 million over 5 years. The money is part of a new funding program that was dubbed the “upstate Hunger Games” by critics who questioned the fairness of making economically depressed areas compete for help from the state. REDCs for Western NY, the Mohawk Valley, the North Country, the Capital District and the Mid-Hudson regions also sought the money, but didn’t win.

“Over the past five years, the Regional Councils have become an integral part of generating economic opportunity in communities statewide,” Cuomo said in announcing the grants and subsidies. “By removing barriers to growth, controlling spending and cutting taxes, we have laid the groundwork for our Regional Councils to pursue projects in key industries that have turned their communities into local economic engines.”

The money was announced in awards show style format, complete with an emcee. Cuomo did not talk to reporters afterwards, but REDC leaders said they had nothing to complain about.

Capital District REDC co-chair James Barba, the CEO of Albany Medical Center, said while the region did not win the $500 million competition, its plans remain viable.

“Now the challenge is going to be to take the funds we were awarded this year … and decide how we are going to use that as a downpayment on our plan,” Barba said.

“The plan is the plan and it is the right plan and we just have to now decide how we are going to fund it is future years,” he added.

“This whole process has benefited this region already because of the way it brought the region together,” added SUNY Albany President Robert Jones, the REDC co-chair. “For the first time we are thinking and acting as a region.”

Marist College President Dennis Murray, the co-chair of the Mid-Hudson REDC, said he wasn’t disappointed to have lost out to central New York on the $500 million competition.

“We think we did very well,” he said. “Over $90 million that we will be able to invest in the mid-Hudson region is a success for us.”

“That’s a significant investment in our region and we are delighted by it … overall we feel very good about it,” he added.

Rob Simpson, the Central New York REDC co-chair and president of CenterState CEO, said he the group’s hard work paid off.

“I’m beyond excited about the opportunity to bring NASA to Central New York,” Simpson said. “One of the core elements of our proposal for high tech development is creating a world class center of excellence for unmanned systems and cross-connected platforms. We’re going to be working with researchers at NASA and other parts of the federal government (and) high tech companies not only throughout the United States but around the world. We’re giving them a reason to be in Central New York.”

The money announced Thursday included three $500 million, five-year awards from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) and $750 million in the fifth year of the REDC process. Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo has centralize control of state grants and funding programs, dividing up the money after reviewing the recommendations of 10 regional councils composed of his political supporters and local business, educational, and healthcare industry executives.

According to Cuomo, the totals for this year included:

Central New York: $122.4 million supporting 93 projects and URI strategies

Finger Lakes: $120.1 million supporting 134 projects and URI strategies

Southern Tier: $117 million supporting 100 projects and URI strategies

Mohawk Valley: Top Performer Awardee with $100.3 million supporting 92 projects

Long Island: Top Performer Awardee with $98.3 million supporting 121 projects

Capital Region: Top Performer Awardee with $98.1 million supporting 114 projects

Mid-Hudson: Regional Council Awardee with $90.4 million supporting 109 projects

North Country: Regional Council Awardee with $85.1 million supporting 82 projects

New York City: Regional Council Awardee with $84.1 million supporting 92 projects

Western New York: Regional Council Awardee with $83.9 million supporting 125 projects