Streams

As Budget Battle Drags On, Paterson Steps Up Pressure

Monday, May 17, 2010

The state budget is now more than six weeks late, with no settlement in sight. Gov. David Paterson is trying to step up the pressure, meeting with Assembly Democrats behind closed doors, announcing a public leader’s meeting, and opening the door to the possibility of state worker layoffs.

The meeting between Paterson and the more than 100 Assembly Democrats comes after a couple of dozen Assemblymembers staged a sit-in in the governor’s offices last week to protest the lack of progress on a budget. The governor says the discussion was “frank” and that no one tried to “sugar coat” anything.

The Assembly has embraced a plan by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch to borrow $2 billion to help balance the budget, but Paterson has been against the idea, and he says they discussed that, at times heatedly. He accused a couple of unnamed Assemblymembers of “showing off” and "trying to bait me”.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he thinks some borrowing will have to occur, no matter the policy differences, if only to deal with the state’s chronic cash flow problems.

The meeting occurs as Paterson seems to be stepping up the case for state worker layoffs. The governor’s plan to furlough state employees for one day a week for several weeks has been held up in court. For the first time, Paterson indicates he is forming alternative plans if he loses the furlough court fight.

“If the issue of the furloughs is turned down, we have other plans,” said Paterson.

A top aide to the governor signed a memo with union leaders that said, in exchange for their agreement on a new pension tier, there would be no layoffs in the new budget. Recently, the legality of that document has been questioned, and Paterson cast doubt on whether the agreement is actually binding.

“When there are intervening events that are out of the contemplation of the parties such as this recession, I think that could theoretically be a way to lay people off,” said Patterson, who says he’s made no final decision.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agrees with the governor on that issue, saying he too thinks that the document may not be legally binding.

“I think they can be legally done,” said Silver, who would not say whether he thinks layoffs would be a good idea.

Paterson will not be getting cooperation from the legislature on his request to delay around $1.5 billion in school aid payments that are due June 1. The governor wants lawmakers to pass a bill permitting him to put off the payments until later in the month, after the June 15 quarterly tax payments are collected and the state has more money.

Speaker Silver says the Assembly will likely not be acting on the measure.

“I don’t think that’s something we ought to be doing,” said Silver.

Senate Democrats have already said they won’t act on the bill to delay the June school aid payments either, saying there’s still plenty of time to get a budget finished before the deadline.

In addition to meeting with Assembly Democrats, Paterson also attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of a new section of the Hudson River Park at the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. The event occurred on the same day that 55 state parks and historic sites around the state are closing down. The governor has said there’s not enough money to keep them open.

“This kills me,” said Paterson. “It’s just that that’s how dire our financial situation is.”

The governor says the park closings were discussed “extensively” in the private meeting with Assembly Democrats.

Paterson has called an open leaders meeting for Tuesday morning, to try to make some progress on the more than six week long stalemate.

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