New York State's Paterson Pushes Legislators to Act on Past-Due Budget

New York’s budget is more than a month late, and Governor David Paterson has submitted his fifth emergency spending measure to keep the government running while pressing lawmakers to find ways to close a $9.2 billion deficit.

To prod legislators, who are set to vote on the emergency measure today, Paterson, 55, has suggested steps that lawmakers have so far ignored. He proposed they remain in session five days a week instead of three, that they vote on his $135.2 billion budget plan, and that they approve one-day-a-week unpaid furloughs for about 100,000 state workers.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of calling a special session and forcing the legislature to stay,” Paterson said April 29 on radio station WCBS in New York City, a day after the state Senate and Assembly left the capitol in Albany without acting on his proposals. Lawmakers did find time to praise the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which they honor annually.

The Legislature didn’t consider Paterson’s budget plan last week even after he added $620 million in spending cuts and new revenue needed to close a gap that emerged after his $135.2 billion budget proposal in mid-February. The budget is for the fiscal year that began April 1.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat of Manhattan, told reporters that needed documents arrived too late for members to evaluate before they adjourned on April 28. He said the Senate and Assembly have agreed on about $6 billion in spending cuts and revenue increases.

Not Identifying Cuts

Democratic leaders aren’t making public a description of the agreed-upon items, said Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Silver. Doing so “would jeopardize the negotiation,” Carl Kruger, a Democrat of Brooklyn and the Senate Finance Committee’s chairman, said on April 26.

“It’s one thing when you’re not reaching agreement, it’s another thing when I don’t get the impression you’re making very much of an effort at all,” said Paterson, a Democrat.

The governor’s latest emergency-funding measures would keep the state in business through May 9. Paterson said he might step up pressure to approve furloughs by including the plan in future weekly spending bills. The 20 percent reduction in paid workdays may save $30 million a week, and wasn’t included in the spending bills he submitted April 30 for today’s vote.

Paterson has already delayed a 4 percent pay raise for 130,000 state workers that was set to take effect April 1.

If furloughs are blocked, “we will have to lay people off whereas what I thought was the proper way, if you’re in financial distress, was for everybody to take an equal sacrifice rather than a few having to lose their jobs,” Paterson said on New York City radio station WOR.

Furlough Plan Expected

Lawmakers expect the furloughs to be part of the next weekly spending bill, said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn. By state law, only the governor can submit spending bills and lawmakers can’t amend them, Proulx said.

If forced to choose between shutting down the government or voting for a bill that includes furloughs, Assemblyman John McEneny, a Democrat of Albany, home to many state workers, said he would vote for the bill. “The risks of a government shutdown are just too great,” he said. State unions have promised a court fight to block furloughs, and McEneny said he believes they would win.

Paterson said furloughs, if passed, would be legal and wouldn’t violate union contracts.

“There is no contact, because there’s no budget,” Paterson said on WOR. Lawmakers are “afraid” and “don’t want to make these cuts,” he said in the broadcast. If legislators pass the measure, “they know they’re going to be unpopular.”

Paterson’s Proposed Cuts

Paterson’s proposed $5.5 billion in spending cuts takes $1.1 billion from school aid, $1 billion from Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, and $250 million from payroll costs.

With the budget in limbo, there’s no plan for closing a $1 billion cash gap projected for the first week of June, said Matt Anderson, a spokesman for the Division of Budget.

The state could delay payments or borrow, Robert Megna, the state’s budget director, said last month. “Investors would probably be much more willing to buy” a new debt issue if a spending plan was in place, he said.

The budget office hasn’t published a schedule for selling the $5.9 billion of state-backed bonds called for in its capital plan. New York has about $54.8 billion of outstanding debt, the second most of any state after California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Quint in Albany, New York, at mquint@bloomberg.net.

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