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Scathing audit slams Gov. Cuomo's economic development projects

Buffalo Billion, Tesla plant used as examples
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Posted at 3:06 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 15:10:11-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York State’s top fiscal watchdog slammed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration Friday for its oversight of expensive economic development projects like the Tesla factory and the Buffalo Billion.

The audit by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said while private companies gained billions of investment dollars from New York taxpayers, Empire State Development Corp. “did not perform comprehensive assessments and analyses that would warrant allocating such significant State investments or provide reasonable assurance that the companies’ achievements are commensurate with the funding they received.”

The blistering audit by the state comptroller also found “a lack of consistent and rigorous performance and evaluation standards for measuring whether programs and projects are attaining their intended goals."

ESD officials sent out a lengthy statement defending their record on the projects and attacking the methodology of the regulators.

“After an extensive review of SUNY Poly’s high-tech portfolio, this audit confirms what is already known: all ESD expenditures were made appropriately, and until a global pandemic shuttered companies worldwide, not a single company within the portfolio had missed an annual investment or job creation commitment,” said Kristen Devoe, an ESD spokesperson.

ESD’s rebuttals placed blame for the contracting and approval process -- which has been a source of controversy in recent years -- on two other state non-profits which are affiliated with Suny Polytechnic Institute.

The Riverbend project in South Buffalo on the former site of Republic Steel led to a federal bid-rigging investigation and prison time for former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli.

“The significant reforms implemented by ESD since 2016 have yielded increased transparency, oversight and accountability, stronger executive leadership, improved finances, additional research funding and lower vacancy rates, leading directly to upstate commitments of more than $4 billion in new investment and over 2,500 new created and retained jobs,” Devoe said in a written statement.

DiNapoli, in his response, called ESD’s comments “misleading and disingenuous.”

Click here to read the audit.