Legislature Rejects Paterson's Deficit-Closing Bills

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The New York State Legislature met in a special session called by Governor David Paterson, but failed to act on the governor's bills to close the latest $315 million budget gap.

Even before the legislators officially met at the scheduled 3pm start of the session, Governor David Paterson seemed resigned to lawmakers’ rejection of his bill to make 2 percent cuts to the budget across the board to close the newest gap. Paterson says it was his responsibility to call the session anyway.

“This is a special session that I called as much to clear my conscience as anything else,” Paterson said.

Paterson held separate, private meetings with Democratic legislative leaders around midday. After the meeting, Senate Democratic leader John Sampson said he had not seen any of the budget legislation, and so could not act on them.

“I haven’t seen a bill,” said Sampson.

That response irritated Paterson.

“What is so difficult about understanding that we would need an across the board 2 percent reduction,” Paterson said.

Democrats hold a slim 32-vote majority in the Senate, at least until the end of the year, and need all of their members present in order to pass legislation unless GOP senators join them. Two Democrats, Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Pedro Espada, did not show up. A Senate spokesman said Senator Montgomery had a prior commitment. Senator Espada, who helped lead a coup in the summer of 2009, lost his seat in a primary and will be out of office on December 31.

It’s likely that Democrats will no longer control the Senate after that date. Three of the 62 Senate races are still in dispute, but Republicans are leading in two of them. That would give the GOP a 32-seat majority in January. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says his GOP members would have voted for the cuts, but Democrats, who are still in charge of the Senate, refused to put them on the floor.

“The calendar is controlled by the majority,” said Skelos. “If the bills are not put out for a vote we can’t vote on them.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also met with Paterson. Silver also said he had not yet seen the budget bills, though he said perhaps his staff had reviewed them. Silver says he is not interested in acting on legislation in the Assembly if the Senate does not take up the legislation, saying “this is not about one-house bills”.

Paterson often feuded bitterly with legislative leaders during his over two and a half years in office. Nevertheless, on what may be his last session day as governor, Speaker Silver says he and Paterson reminisced about old times, saying “this was probably our last day in Albany together." Both have served at the Capitol for several decades.

Silver will be staying on as speaker, as his members were set to reelect him Monday evening. The speaker and the rest of the Assembly Democrats have a lunchtime meeting with Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, and Silver says he looks forward to working with Cuomo.

Senator Sampson, whose actions in a state gambling deal were severely criticized by the state inspector general, may be on shakier ground. He was the only one of the four legislative leaders not to be reelected to his post in November. A Senate spokesman says the election will be held later, and that senators were too busy tending to state business.  Sampson answered a question on the future of his leadership this way.

“You know, people are not concerned too much about leadership,” said Sampson. “People are concerned about jobs.” 

The legislature’s failure to act to close the current year’s budget gap will only make things harder in the next budget, says State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who predicts that next year’s gap will be as high as $10 billion.

“It would probably have the effect of rolling into next year,” said DiNapoli, “to make next year’s gap even more significant.”

Governor Paterson says he likely won’t call another session, though, unless there’s a “change of heart” from the legislators.