Spitzer unveils upstate revitalization plan

Gov. Eliot Spitzer detailed a plan today to pour $1 billion into upstate communities to help them re
Gov. Eliot Spitzer speaks during the state of the upstate address at Buffalo State College in Buffalo today.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer speaks during the state of the upstate address at Buffalo State College in Buffalo today.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer detailed a plan today to pour $1 billion into upstate communities to help them regain their former prominence by improving the business climate, leveraging university resources, nurturing the farming industry and restoring parks.

In New York’s first ever “state of upstate” speech, the governor revealed an agenda of programs and investments that he said grew from a year’s worth of conversations in communities.

“While I realize that this is a large amount of money in tough fiscal times, I also know that it’s at these very moments when investment matters most,” Spitzer told an audience of mayors, business and community leaders and elected officials, “when the urgency is so great that we simply cannot afford to wait.”

Spitzer will need the support of downstate legislators to make it happen. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat and Spitzer ally, was an early supporter, traveling to Buffalo for what he called “a historic day.”

“We’re with him 100 percent,” Silver said.

“This is a necessity, investing in our economy is a necessity,” the speaker said.

Among proposals in the $1 billion Upstate Revitalization Fund to be included in Spitzer’s budget next week:

—A $50 million Upstate Agribusiness Fund to support new and expanded food processing centers, develop crop-based alternative motor fuels, and hire the first director of agriculture development. He also wants to better market upstate products to New York City outlets.

—A $350 million Regional Blueprint Fund with capital for the construction of development-ready sites and industrial parks and improvement of existing sites.

— A new “brownfields” law that will target more money for cleanups and end what critics have said was a practice of providing tax breaks to politically connected businesses.

—Market upstate products, services and attributes to Canada, taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar to entice Canadian trade.

—Help companies develop products from research breakthroughs at upstate universities and hospitals. He said the state University at Binghamton, for example, has top graduate schools but not one “incubator” where businesses can be born to seize on the college’s innovation or talent.

—Invest $100 million for building or rehabilitating 10,000 homes and apartments.

—Sending 200 state troopers to help big upstate cities turn back violent crime. Spitzer also proposes to build Crime Analysis Centers featuring high-tech crime-fighting tools. He ask the Legislature to support building the centers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

—$100 million to better maintain state and local bridges.

—$80 million to improve state parks (another $20 million would go to state parks downstate).

How to pay for Spitzer’s ambitious program remains a question. Besides the upstate initiatives and spending he called for today, Spitzer last week proposed billions more in investments to create jobs and in property tax relief, all in the face of a projected deficit of at least $4.3 billion and declining state and national economies.

Spitzer will detail what he promises to be “hard choices” in his budget proposal to the Legislature next week.

“We are One New York, and we rise and fall together,” Spitzer said, citing the 1970s state bailout of New York City. “When part of our state is struggling, it affects all of us. Because when a young family leaves the State, everyone has to pay for the cost of decline, the higher taxes, increased health care costs and shrinking national voice in Washington.

“The truth is that we will never grow again; we will never prosper again; we will never become a beacon of hope and opportunity again if part of our state is thriving and another part is falling behind,” he said. “So we must come together and channel all of the passion, energy and determination that is within us toward one goal: restoring growth and prosperity to Upstate New York.”

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