Paterson Says New York Lawmakers Make `Spurious' Claims to Avoid Meeting

New York Governor David Paterson, involved in a constitutional dispute with the Legislature over his power to summon them to Albany for a budget session, threatened to overrule their legal objections and do it anyway.

Paterson today revoked proclamations for special sessions he had declared Jan. 17 and June 26. The governor said Assembly and Senate leaders are making “spurious claims” that those earlier meetings were still under way.

By saying they were still meeting, ostensibly to discuss education aid, legislators are avoiding a special session on the state’s $9.2 billion budget deficit, Paterson said. In fact, the governor said today in a statement, empty chambers in the Statehouse showed “almost no legislators were present” and no business was being conducted.

“It is clear to me that this Legislature would rather play parliamentary games than finish a budget that is 15 weeks late,” the governor said. “I will exercise my constitutional authority to bring them all back to Albany, even if it is an election year.”

With its Senate adjourned, the nation’s third-biggest state by population lacks a completed budget. The Legislature and governor have enacted a spending plan without enough revenue to fill a $9.2 billion gap.

The Senate didn’t act on a $1 billion revenue bill passed by the Assembly, and neither chamber planned for the chance that about $1 billion of federal Medicaid assistance wouldn’t arrive. The U.S. Senate hasn’t approved that program.

Cash Squeeze

Without a revenue bill, a projected cash squeeze in September would become worse, the governor has said. “The state will run out of money in about a month-and-a-half,” he said July 8 in an interview on New York City radio station WOR.

“This contortion of the governor’s long-recognized constitutional authority lacks a basis in law,” said Peter Kiernan, counsel to the governor, speaking about the lawmakers’ actions. “The constitution does not permit the Legislature to usurp gubernatorial authority in this manner.”

In the state Senate, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Democratic majority, dismissed the governor’s statement, saying the Senate and Assembly “are working to resolve the outstanding issues related to the budget and hope to see engagement by the chief executive come from something other than another press release.”

In the Assembly, Sisa Moyo, a spokeswoman for Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, said he has no argument with the governor on the issue.

“We have repeatedly stated that if the governor requested the Legislature to come back, the Assembly would come back,” she said.

In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie called a special session of the Legislature over the July 4th holiday weekend to discuss his plan for a property-tax cap. Democratic legislators initially vowed not to attend, though Christie on July 3 reached agreement on a plan with Senate Democrats.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Goldman in New York City Hall at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

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