State lawmakers seek to end funding for regional economic development councils

Members of the Long Island Regional Economic Development

Members of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council meet on Aug. 23, 2011 at Hofstra University. The council is one of 10 across the state that help to distribute state business aid. (Credit: Chris Ware)

Seeking to get Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's attention in budget talks, the State Legislature has eliminated funding for the regional economic development councils that are his preferred tool for giving out business aid.

The majority conferences that control the State Senate and Assembly took out $150 million that Cuomo recommended for the councils to support building projects statewide. In competing plans last week, lawmakers put the money into other business programs.

The Senate and Assembly did the same thing last year, but funding was restored in the adopted 2013-14 budget. In addition to the $150 million, the Cuomo administration in years past has directed about $500 million to the councils from state agencies.

The legislature, sources said Monday, wants more say in how the councils award state tax credits and grants to expanding companies. Each of 10 councils has an Assembly member and a senator with limited voting powers, though they do not help determine which projects are recommended to Albany for help.

Asked why the Assembly removed money from the councils, Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Democratic majority, said, "Everything will be discussed in the context of the overall budget in the coming weeks."

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) sit on the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. Both voted for the budget resolutions that excluded the councils' money.

The Assembly resolution "is the opening statement in the budget process . . . and so you want to make that statement something that catches the attention of the other parties so that you can engage in a discussion," Sweeney said Monday.

In 2012, lawmakers secured voting rights on the councils after the Assembly initially nixed funding.

A Martins aide Monday referred questions to Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate GOP, who said, "This and other issues will be decided in the coming weeks."

A spokesman for Empire State Development, the state's primary business aid agency, declined to comment.

Cuomo and lawmakers are facing an April 1 deadline to have a new budget in place.

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