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Albany Update: What's Going On?

The sky was supposed to fall. Chaos was supposed to reign. And somehow, Albany failed to deliver even that.

After weeks of mayhem, state legislators on Monday passed two budget bills, which haven't yet resolved the budget uncertainty. Gov. David Paterson is vetoing spending he says the state can’t afford -- almost 7,000 items. His aides said he can sign about four vetoes per minute, which, according to one newspaper, will take him more than 24 hours to do.

While Paterson stays busy with that, what exactly is happening in Albany now?

Answer: Legislators are voting on all the bills they didn't get to earlier in the year. In the Assembly, that includes a bill allowing no-fault divorce, which is expected to pass. Some women’s groups support it. But the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women opposes it.

Also, the Assembly recently voted in support of a bill “barring the NYPD from keeping a computer database of completely innocent people who have been stopped, questioned or frisked by police officers,” as the New York Civil Liberties Union describes it.

While officials in Albany are voting on non-budget legislation, they’re waiting for the next element of the financial legislation -- revenue bills -- to "age" before they can vote on them tomorrow. Those revenue bills will determine how much money comes into the state coffers to pay for the spending outlined in the budget bills. The bills will have a one-year sales tax on clothes priced less than $110. They’re also going to lower the amount that rich people can deduct on their taxes for charitable donations. There’s also a plan to borrow money from the state pension in order to, you know, pay the state pension.

So why, after three months, do legislators need to let anything age? It’s actually a good-government step. You, at least theoretically, want lawmakers to have enough time to read bills before they vote on them.

Once the bills are properly aged, if they pass, will the budget process finally be over?

Nope. One rule about budgeting is that your’e never really done. Budgets are made based on assumptions about how much money comes in and how much can be saved. If any of that changes, officials will have to come back and tweak the budget. One major variable is federal health care money -- about $1 billion for New York State. If that doesn't arrive, it’ll be budget time, again.