New York’s latest attempt to avoid a California-like fiscal crisis devolved Tuesday into Gov. David Paterson seeking emergency power to close a $3.2 billion deficit because lawmakers “are afraid” of special interests.
Senators promptly called him “King David” and a wannabe macho man.
“This is not the old Soviet Union,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. He added later: “He’s not King David Paterson. We threw out King David a long time ago.”
In the end, the third week of an extraordinary session that was supposed to address the deficit ended with no action in the Legislature. Another target was set for Monday. Then lawmakers went home for Thanksgiving.
“I say this to the legislators: This budget must be balanced. Please note the fate of so many other states that did not take this action,” Paterson said in an Internet address.
“I am aware many of the legislators are afraid,” Paterson said, referring to powerful special interests who oppose cuts to school aid and health care. “If the Legislature is unwilling to make the necessary cuts, I will. If the Legislature is unwilling to do what needs to be done, I will.”
His target was primarily the Senate’s Democratic majority, with whom the Democratic governor has been in sharpest conflict over the deficit plan.
Soon after, the Senate flatly rejected the request to let him make spending cuts without their approval, saying it would be a dangerous precedent and possibly unconstitutional.
“This is what we were elected for,” said Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat. “We’re not going to allow it.”
The Democrat-led Assembly reacted differently.
Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari said the Democratic majority is examining the constitutionality of Paterson’s request for one-time, unilateral power to resolve the deficit. But Canestrari thought Paterson’s Internet address will aid negotiations with the Legislature.
“I think he was excellent,” said Canestrari, an Albany County Democrat. “I think it’s helpful, it’s leadership, it’s movement.”
On Tuesday Paterson sent the Legislature his Oct. 15 plan to reduce the deficit in the form of a bill lawmakers could then amend and, potentially, pass or reject it. Skelos said he was frustrated Paterson didn’t provide it earlier, as requested, instead of spending his time “pounding the table and holding his breath.”
Paterson’s new proposal calls for less of a cut to school districts — about $206 million compared to his Oct. 15 proposal for a $480 million cut in this fiscal year. He said that would result in a 1.58 percent cut in school aid for each school district, instead of avoiding any cut for the poorest districts and forcing a greater cut on suburban districts. He would also use federal stimulus funds a year early to replace some of the state’s funding of school aid.
Senators who said they would make no cut at all are considering the new proposal.
“It’s a big bill,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, of Paterson’s 440-page measure. “Hopefully by Monday we can reach some kind of agreement.”
Sampson said the stream of lobbyists and advocates who filled the Capitol much of the last three weeks made their concerns clear.
“At the end of the day, you’re talking about real, human people who have to absorb these cuts,” Sampson said. He relayed a story of a mother of an autistic son who asked amid talk of cuts to her son’s program, “Do you have a heart?”
State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, said he’s angry at Paterson’s combative tone.
“I am not voting for it no matter how much he yells,” Diaz said. “He knows that we are not going to support his cuts. So he is trying to act like a macho man.”
Paterson said action is needed now to avoid the more dire fiscal plights of California and a few other states, which have resorted to furloughs and layoffs, IOUs to contractors, early release of prisoners and the closing most libraries.
“I have commended the governor for making sure New York does not go the way of California,” Sampson said. “I respect that, but at the same time there are certain cuts we will not tolerate.”