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by Jay Gallagher

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Politics might derail budget

Getting a state budget passed this year and an ethics bill adopted could be further complicated by Gov. Paterson seeing political advantage in holding them up, lawmakers told a forum sponsored by the Albany County League of Women voters today.

“My fear is he will not want a budget,’’ Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari, D-Cohoes, told an audience of about 60 League members and guests.

Canestrari explained that as long as the budget is not settled, Paterson, who is running for a full four-year term in November, can criticize the Legislature for not doing enough to hold down spending. But he loses that issue once the spending plan, which is supposed to be in place by April 1, is adopted.

Paterson has proposed steep cuts in education and health-care spending, as well as new taxes on cigarettes and sugared drinks, to help close a potential budget deficit he estimates at more than $8 billion.

Canestrari said it was significant that for the first time in memory, Paterson aides didn’t brief legislative staffers on what was in his budget plan before the governor made it public, suggesting that he wasn’t interested in making a timely deal.

Another lawmaker at the forum, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, said that politics also seems to be behind the Paterson veto of an ethics bill supported by the League and most other reform groups.

“He did it for political reasons, period,’’ Breslin said.

Paterson said he vetoed the bill because it did not go far enough in reforming Albany, especially because it allowed lawmakers to appoint the panel that would have overseen their ethics - a system now in place that has been widely criticized.

But lawmakers said today it would have been far better to take the changes in the bill that the Legislature passed, including stepped-up enforcement powers for the state Board of Elections, and build on them.

But the politics of a veto were more attractive to Paterson, another lawmaker said.

“You want to keep it alive,’’ Assemblyman Jack MeEneny, D-Albany, told the crowd, referring to Paterson’s stake in keeping the ethics issue before the public. If he didn’t veto the bill, “it would all go away’’ and Paterson would lose a potent issue to use against the Legislature.

The League’s legislative director, Barbara Bartoletti, said she expects the Assembly to override Paterson’s veto of the ethics bill on Monday. But she and Breslin agreed the override attempt faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

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