Albany, NY —
Governor Paterson forced state lawmakers to come to the Capitol for a rare Sunday evening special session, but he could not make them vote on his budget proposals to end a nearly three-month stand off. Lawmakers say they will vote on their own budget plan today, and the governor says he will veto any changes to his plan.
The latest battle of wills over the nearly three-month late state budget began on Friday, when Gov. Paterson, after negotiating unsuccessfully with legislative leaders for days, put the rest of his budget plan in an emergency extender bill due for passage Monday.
Once again, the legislature faced the choice of passing the measure, or partially shutting down government. The bills contained the most controversial parts of the budget; school aid cuts, a plan to allow public colleges and universities to set their own tuition within some constraints, new taxes on clothing, limits on charitable tax write offs for the rich and authorization to sell wine in grocery stores. The measures also include a 4% property tax cap for local governments.
Paterson's budget director, Robert Megna, says attempts were made in the bills to compromise with the legislature and that it should be "relatively easy" for lawmakers to pass the measures.
Legislative leaders did not agree. On Saturday, they struck back. Legislative leaders revealed that they had quietly introduced their own budget bills, just before midnight on Friday. Their bills restore $300 million more to the school aid cuts, reject the plan to allow SUNY and CUNY to set their own tuition and do not include a property tax cap. The legislature also does not include the plan to sell wine in grocery stores, but does contain the sales tax on clothing, as well as limits on charitable deductions for the rich. The legislature's plan also includes a new tax on online hotel reservations and defers some business tax credits.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the bills are not that different from the governor's proposals and end any threat of a government shutdown.
"It's basically the same spending plan that the governor has," said Silver, who says the legislature's plan is "balanced".
Governor Paterson immediately counterattacked. He demanded that lawmakers return Sunday night for a special session and consider his bills to permit the SUNY and CUNY tuition changes, reform the budget process and also provide a contingency plan in case the federal government reneges on $1 billion worth of health care funding. But lawmakers gaveled in and gaveled out without considering any of the bills, saying they had not had enough time to study them.
Governor Paterson says he's "appalled" by the legislature's actions and says if lawmakers don't address some of his concerns, including a contingency plan to make up for a possible $1 billion shortfall in federal Medicaid funds, he will veto all additions made to his budget, including legislators' pet projects known as member items.
"I will veto every single appropriation," said Paterson.
Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader John Sampson say they will pass their budget bills Monday, but Senator Sampson could not promise that he has all of the 32 votes he will need to pass the bills if the 30 Republicans in the Senate follow through on their threat not to vote for any tax increases.
"Whatever concerns our members have, I will deal with them between now and when it's time for us to pass the two-way (budget)," said Sampson.
Paterson predicts a long week, and says the wrangling is far from over. He advised lawmakers to bring plenty of clothing as they returned to the capitol Sunday. He says legislators are not going back home until the budget is finally finished.