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Lawmakers get voice on business councils

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with from left, Assembly

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with from left, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). (March 27, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

State lawmakers now have membership and voting power on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's regional economic development councils, officials said Wednesday.

The change, done quietly in the state Capitol this spring, responds to criticism from lawmakers that they were largely excluded from the councils' first year, where $785 million was awarded in state grants and tax credits. Sixty-six projects on Long Island received a total of $101.6 million.

The councils' makeup has become an issue because, under Cuomo, they are the primary vehicle for steering state money to building projects and companies that will create jobs. The councils serve as the entry point for economic help from state government.

The Cuomo administration contends that lawmakers "have played an integral role" in the regional councils from inception last year.

Still, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Empire State Development Corp., said: "We are taking steps to improve the process and ensure the investment of state resources continues to reflect regional plans and priorities. Toward that end, the Senate and Assembly leadership each appointed one member to each council with voting power."

Shafran said senators and assembly members would only vote on policy. They can request funding for projects but not participate in votes to forward projects to the administration.

The Senate's Republican majority and the Democratic-controlled Assembly, during private budget negotiations with Cuomo, pushed for greater involvement. In March, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said, "We want more legislative input."

On Wednesday, Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said, "We have always believed that the legislature and governor should be working cooperatively to help businesses create jobs. . . . This ensures that will continue throughout the entire process."

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he "advocated for [lawmakers'] inclusion since the councils are making decisions on state funds and members are in a good position to know the needs of their regions."

Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) will serve on the local council.

"This is a great opportunity to work with business and community leaders to promote Long Island's economy, encourage economic development and create jobs," Martins said.

Sweeney said he was looking forward "to a constructive dialogue that will bring sustainable growth and jobs."

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