New York’s Legislature was poised to avert an unprecedented shutdown of state government Monday night, the latest scare in a two-year-old fiscal crisis and with a state budget now more than 10 weeks overdue.
A shutdown would have idled many of the state’s 200,000 workers and disrupted or suspended nonessential services including lottery games, issuing driver’s licenses, and paying unemployment and welfare benefits as well as closing parks and campgrounds.
In the end, a Capitol that has been involved in brinksmanship since before the 2010-11 state budget was due April 1 pulled back. The Senate’s Democratic majority, razor-thin and divergent, reined in a member — Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx — and appeased another — Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. Diaz won a $188 million restoration of funding Monday, most of it federal and about $18 million of which will go to Diaz’s concerns to keep senior centers open in poor neighborhoods in New York City.
The Senate’s Republican minority gained a voice in budget talks, and agreed to end its bloc voting against emergency spending bills as some of its members representing large segments of state workers took election year heat from Democratic challengers.
Democratic Gov. David Paterson set it all in motion by using a 30-year-old law that allowed him to force the Legislature to accept his full-year budget cuts — $327 million worth for mental health and social services — that he tied to weekly emergency spending appropriations. The Legislature’s only recourse was to shutter government.
“I think that we had come to a realization that we cannot talk about government shutting down,” Senate Democratic leader Johns Sampson of Brooklyn. “I think Albany realized that we’ve heard the voice of the people and the people have expressed their concerns about our inability to put them in a position of certainty. I think people want certainty from their elected officials.”
“We are affecting services that we never, ever dreamed of cutting, but we understand times are tough,” he said.
The Legislature appeared to avoid a shutdown early Monday when Republicans in the Senate minority saw the final bill that included some of their proposals. The Assembly, with a supermajority of Democrats, passed the bills easily.
“I can’t vote to shut down government,” said Sen. Hugh T. Farley, a Schenectady County Republican who represents tens of thousands of state workers. “It’s a terrible bill, a terrible process, but it would be catastrophic for my constituents.”
Farley’s vote was critical, the first commitment to offset the planned “no” vote by Diaz, the Democrat who has said he won’t vote for cutting more from programs for the needy in his district.
Farley’s commitment was supported by the Republican minority conference.
“The bottom line is nobody wants to see government shut down,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County.
By MICHAEL GORMLEY,Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.