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Two angles from Albany

There's lots to digest from Gov. David Paterson's State of the State address. For right now, let's talk about his proposal to eliminate the Empire Zone program.

Tom Precious explains:

A new Excelsior Jobs Program would be created under the Paterson proposal, with a focus on high-tech and clean energy jobs. It would expand research and development tax credits for companies engaged in those sectors and offer new money for capital investment by private firms. Firms in high technology, biotechnology, clean energy, and finance and manufacturing sectors would also get special tax breaks if they create and maintain a set number of jobs over five years.

At first blush, the proposal sounds like a step in the right direction, dare I say forward thinking, at least so far as the push to promote high-tech and clean energy. Western New York has particular potential in the latter.

This much is certain. Just about anything would be an improvement on the Empire Zone program.

The first-blush response from business interests is not positive. No surprise, given that Paterson wants to end corporate welfare as they know it. 

MaziarzAlso noteworthy out of Albany is news that George Maziarz is one of two Republicans to gain an appointment to a Senate Committee. He'll head up the Energy Committee, which he chaired for a spell in the final year of the GOP's control of the Senate the year before last.

Yes, he's from WNY, and yes, this might give him some leverage, or at least a bully pulpit, when it comes to the New York Power Authority, and yes, in theory, that's a good thing.

But I expect that Maziarz, for the most part, won't use the power of the chairmanship for much more than narrow political purposes. 

He was holding hands and otherwise cuddling with NYPA when George Pataki was governor and his appointees controlled the authority. Along came Eliot Spitzer, followed by Democratic control of the Senate and -- BANG! -- the authority became his public enemy No. 1.   

Maziarz became what I consider a phony populist, criticizing, after the fact, the relicensing deal involving the Niagara Power Project and blasting the authority for not allocating power to companies that were seeking outrageously generous subsidies and a modest increase in rates to municipal utilities outside the region that enjoy deep-deep-deep discounts.

Meanwhile, for years, when he held influence on the Energy Committee when the Republicans were in charge of the governor's mansion and the Senate, Maziarz did nothing to help WNY get a better deal from NYPA.

Among his legacy of failure:

  • Not pushing legislation, or otherwise working behind the scenes, to get WNY its fair share of the profits generated at the Niagara Power Project.
  • Ditto for revising the criteria for how local industry gets NYPA power to rein in subsidies that, in the extreme, total as much as $150,000 per job, per year.
  • Being a non-factorwhen the region was negotiating with NYPA when the authority sought to extend its license to operate the hydropower plant in Lewiston. Thanks to Rep. Brian Higgins, the region squeezed some extra money out of NYPA, but not nearly as much as WNY might have otherwise secured.

The contracts for big power customers will be renegotiated this year and look for Maziarz to push for a continuation of the status quo. That would allow him to posture as saving jobs, while also positioning himself for big campaign contributions from the corporations that would benefit from more business as usual.

Mariarz's appointment raises another concern -- just how did the Senate leadership decide that he should be one of only two Republicans to get a committee chairmanship?

Could the hand of Steve Pigeon be involved?

Let's see. Pigeon is chief counsel to Pedro Espada, the Senate majority leader, who, last June, bolted to the Republicans for a spell.

Moreover, Maziarz has been playing footsies with Pigeon and Tom Golisano for a couple of years, as evidenced by the $10,000 Responsible New York contributed to the Maziarz-controlled Niagara County Republican Committee in October 2008.

The Albany Times Union and New York Daily News have more details on the Maziarz's appointment.

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Economic Development | New York Power Authority | State government
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