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$485.5M in funding for SolarCity approved by state panel

The Public Authorities Control Board meets at the

The Public Authorities Control Board meets at the state Capitol, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Albany. The board authorized funding on the Solar City solar panel factory in Buffalo. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY — A state panel Wednesday approved nearly half a billion dollars in state funding to complete the construction of a Buffalo-area solar-panel plant that is one part of a widening federal probe.

The authorization by the Public Authorities Control Board came after a one-week postponement after legislative leaders balked at spending $485.5 million on the Solar City solar panel factory in Buffalo.

The board, controlled by appointees of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), unanimously signed off on the allocation after about a 10-minute discussion.

Either legislator could have vetoed the funding. Heastie’s representative asked for additional layers of oversight, which also were granted. These included monthly updates, third-party review of expenditures and removing language that allowed spending on “additional beneficiaries” other than Solar City.

“We are being called upon to authorize a substantial sum for a project that has generated a great deal of public interest, and its success is integral to providing economic opportunity in Western New York, and the state as a whole,” an Assembly staffer told the board before requesting the extra scrutiny.

Last summer, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara subpoenaed the Empire State Development Corp., a state agency, and the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. Last month, he subpoenaed Cuomo’s office regarding projects involved in the “Buffalo Billion” and other major economic initiatives.

Cuomo aides noted that the governor, following the subpoenas, hired an outside attorney to review Buffalo Billion projects and to review any future proposed spending.

The subpoenas sought communications from 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.

Cuomo has portrayed the probe as focused on Joseph Percoco, his longtime and now-former closest 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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