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Low-cost power still threatened

ALBANY — The Power for Jobs program that provides low-cost energy to New York manufacturers, companies and nonprofit groups is threatened, because competing legislative proposals to extend and improve it have stalled in Albany.

The Senate was expected to pass its version of the bill, which is supported by Gov. David A. Paterson, as early as Thursday, but the Assembly was sticking to its own version.

That would leave little time to reconcile the bills and pass them before session is scheduled to end Monday, although a push to pass a state budget was expected to extend the session to at least June 28.

The 13-year-old program, which benefits 500 employers, provides subsidized electricity that can save a company tens of thousands of dollars a year, or the cost of several employees. It technically expired in May but continues on a temporary basis during negotiations.

The future of the Power for Jobs program remains in doubt, but Paterson has confirmed a tentative agreement on another major jobs program to replace the state’s Empire Zones.

The Excelsior Jobs program would do away with the 22-year-old Empire Zone program, which has been slammed by scandals involving tax breaks to politically connected companies that didn’t make good on creating promised jobs. Excelsior Jobs would provide $250 million a year in tax breaks and credits. It would be aimed at “high growth, high wage industries” with greater accountability for keeping job promises.

“The Excelsior Jobs program is much more specific,” Paterson said Thursday in a radio interview on WOR in Manhattan. He said the program will operate under a rule: “You can get help from the government if you deserve it … so taxpayer money will not be going to provide tax credits to those who are not creating jobs.”

But the greater concern in coming days will be the Power for Jobs program.

Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat, said he was optimistic the differences could be resolved.

One of the issues is the current direct benefit to residential customers, which ranges from as little as 60 cents per month to $60 monthly for farms. The average residential benefit is about $2 a month.

The Assembly wants to eliminate the benefit and compensate for it with energy efficiency to reduce consumers’ expenses. The governor had wanted to use the small benefit to leverage more job growth, and the Senate would direct more of the benefit to lower-income rate payers.

Senate Democratic majority spokesman Austin Shafran said the chamber is eager to work out a deal.