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Buffalo Billion funding vote postponed amid probe, official says

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with Lyndon Rive, co-founder

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with Lyndon Rive, co-founder and chief executive of SolarCity, after breaking ground Sept. 23, 2014, on a new, 1-million-square-foot site for the future SolarCity GigaFactory facility, which will manufacture solar panels at the RiverBend site in South Buffalo. Photo Credit: Office of the governor / Darren McGee

Amid a federal probe, a key funding vote for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion development initiative has been postponed, a state official said Tuesday.

The Public Authorities Control Board was scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to approve nearly half a billion dollars in state appropriations to continue construction of the SolarCity solar panel factory in Buffalo. But that vote now is on hold after leaders of the Senate and Assembly refused to commit to the funding.

“I think it should be properly vetted,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) told reporters Monday after a meeting with the governor on various issues.

“We’ll look at it,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said. “I can’t give you an answer today and we’ll follow up.”

Appointees of Cuomo and the legislative leaders to the PACB must unanimously agree for funding to go forward on any project. The PACB, on an agenda released last week, signaled it planned to allocate $485.5 million to Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, a nonprofit set up by the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute to help pay for the construction of the SolarCity plant.

One concern, an official said, was that the funding proposal included vague language about other beneficiaries to be determined.

Last month, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Cuomo’s “executive chamber” — the official name of his office — regarding projects involved in the so-called Buffalo Billion projects and other economic initiatives.

The subpoenas sought communications from some high-ranking administration officials, including Bill Mulrow, the governor’s secretary, and Jim Malatras, the director of state operations, a source said. It also reportedly sought records and communications dealing with more than 20 companies that have done work all around the state, not just Buffalo.

A Cuomo administration internal memo has described the investigation as “criminal in nature.”

Cuomo has portrayed the probe as focused on Joseph Percoco, his longtime and now-former aide, and Todd Howe, a lobbyist who previously worked not only for Cuomo, but also the governor’s father, the late Mario Cuomo.

Federal investigators, however, haven’t characterized the limits of the inquiry.

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