Paterson Says NY Faces 'Winter of Reckoning'

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Saying New York is in a fight for its survival, Gov. David Paterson asked legislators to boldly reshape Albany in his State of the State speech this afternoon.

"This is a winter of reckoning, but I come here today not to replay old grievances, but we come here to build," Paterson said.

Paterson urged lawmakers to help him overhaul what he says is New York's broken budget process.

"Whether it is this administration, or the next, we have got to find a procedure that cures the spending structure that has infected our budget process for the last 20 years," Paterson said.

Paterson said reform is needed in order to bring New York's financial house back in order. He vowed to change the state's budget process, accusing lawmakers of bowing too often to the wishes of special interests.

"No longer are we going to run New York like a payday loan operation," he said. "And yes, I am renewing my call for a spending cap."

Last year, Paterson proposed tying state spending to the rate of inflation, but lawmakers refused to bring it up for a vote.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio says a spending cap won't address the budget deficits the state already faces.

"I thought that he missed a huge opportunity to confront the elephant in the room," Lazio said. "Nowhere in this speech did he talk about how we're going to close a budge deficit that ranges from $40 to $45 billion dollars over the next three years."

Aside from the spending cap, Paterson also proposed other ideas that will be a tough sell: ethics reforms, public financing of campaigns, and term limits for legislators. He says these actions are "integral" to New York's economic comeback.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos blames Democrats for the state's financial problems. He says they "squandered an opportunity" after receiving more than $25 billion in federal funds.

"Instead of using stimulus funds to balance the budget, reduce taxes, or create jobs, the Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly spent every dime," Skelos says. "Then they raised your taxes and spent even more."

Skelos says Democrats went behind closed doors last year without listening to Republican ideas. The result, he says, was wasteful spending, higher taxes, and no accountability.

Paterson gave his second State of the State address against a background of uncertainty over his political future and effectiveness. He suffers from low poll numbers, and at least one fellow Democrat, Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, is considering a primary challenge.

To listen to Paterson's full speech, and hear an analysis with WNYC's Bob Hennelly and Amy Eddings visit the WNYC News Blog.