The administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to...

The administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to spend $161 million on ads for the START-UP NY business program and tourism for the four years ending March 31, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

New York State's ubiquitous television commercials and other advertisements touting tourist attractions and tax-free zones for businesses are expected to cost $161 million for the four years ending March 31, 2015, according to state records.

Empire State Development, the state's primary business-aid agency, said this week the expenditure includes development and production of the ads as well as purchasing airtime on TV and radio stations. Some "I Love NY" tourism spots feature testimonials from celebrities such as musician Billy Joel and actor Robert De Niro.

The cost and content of the promotions have become a flash point in this year's gubernatorial election between incumbent Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive. Cuomo doesn't appear in the ads but Astorino charges that he benefits from them.

Of the $110 million spent so far on TV and radio ads, the records show $43.5 million was outlaid between Dec. 10 and June 30 -- time during which the race for Albany's Executive Mansion began in earnest. Another $50 million or so will be spent between now and next spring, according to Empire State Development's projection.

The agency released the data Thursday night to Newsday in response to the newspaper's Nov. 1 Freedom of Information request.

In its five-page explanation, the agency said Cuomo had "revitalized the state's once robust business and development and tourism efforts."

Astorino shot back Friday, saying the ads falsely portray New York as gaining economic ground against other states. He called on Cuomo to halt the promotions immediately.

Astorino said, "Andrew Cuomo has taken more than a quarter-billion dollars of taxpayer money and put it into television advertising for his own political gain."

Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for Cuomo's re-election campaign, said, "Rob Astorino's flailing campaign gets more pathetic by the day. Now, he's actively campaigning against state efforts to create jobs and grow our economy."

Kauffmann said that since Cuomo's inauguration in January 2011, taxes have been lowered, unemployment is down and 466,000 private-sector jobs have been created.

A spokesman for Empire State Development declined to comment.

Starting in 2011, the State Legislature authorized spending up to $200 million over four years for the "I Love NY," "The New New York," "START-UP NY" and other promotions. A surplus of advertising funds is expected in spring.

Under Cuomo, the "I Love NY" tourism campaign has been "revitalized and complemented" with ads promoting historic sites, food and beverage attractions, and to boost visits to communities such as Long Beach after superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, Empire State Development said. The Sandy-related tourism ads were paid for separately using part of the $37.5 million in promotional aid given by the federal government, records show.

More than $41 million in federal and state money has been spent on TV and radio commercials for tourism. In some cases, 59 percent or more of the funds have gone to in-state stations; only the summer tourism seasons saw spending on out-of-state ads exceed 50 percent, according to the documents.

Empire State Development said, "Winter campaigns are typically aimed at in-state residents to encourage them to participate in local activities . . . [and the fall] advertising campaigns are typically aimed at getting downstate residents to take fall weekend trips to Long Island and upstate."

Tourism spending increased 3.5 percent last year over 2012 and employment was up 1.9 percent, according to the consulting firm Tourism Economics.

The state spends more of its ad dollars out of state when it comes to business development campaigns like "The New New York" and "START-UP NY."

More than $64 million has been spent for this type of promotion on TV and radio since 2012; about half has gone to a national campaign on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and other networks for Cuomo's START-UP tax-free zones for businesses.

State officials have credited the ads for "thousands" of inquiries from companies about START-UP NY.

* $161M Amount NYS plans to spend on tourism and business development ads for the four years ending March 31, 2015
* $110M Spent so far on TV and radio commercials
* $43.5M Spent on TV and radio ads in December 2013-June 2014
* $37.5M Federal money used for ads to promote tourism and disaster recovery services after superstorm Sandy in 2012
* $28.5M Price tag for ads touting START-UP NY tax-free zones for businesses from December 2013 through June
* $8M Fee charged by the Manhattan advertising firm BBDO to create the ad campaigns

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