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by Jay Gallagher

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New weapon for gov in budget fight

Lawmakers left town today until Monday, guaranteeing that the
budget will be more than six weeks late and furthering speculation
that it may well be after November’s elections before a spending plan
is in place.

The rationale here is when faced with the decision of
delivering a budget calling for painful spending cuts and/or tax hikes
or just not doing anything, lawmakers may well opt for the latter.

They might think they can get away with this, League
legislative director Barbara Bartoletti speculates, because so little
pressure is being put on them by Gov. David Paterson to abide by a new
state law that is supposed to prevent long delays.

“There have been no open leaders’ meetings held in the last
several months,’’ she pointed out, and conference committees haven’t
progressed beyond “planning’’ for them. And she said rank-and-file
members have been reduced to asking lobbyists about the status of
budget talks.

All of these developments fly in the face of a 2007 reform law
that was supposed to open up the process, but has been mostly ignored
this year.

On the other hand, Paterson has used a new weapon to try to get
action: inserting policies that lawmakers don’t like in the weekly
emergency-spending bills needed to keep the state operating while no
budget is in place.

They included first a freeze on pay raises due state workers April 1
and then this week a plan to furlough 100,000 state workers for one
day a week, effectively cutting their pay by 20 percent. (State
workers went to court today to try to have that nullified). If
lawmakers had failed to act, most state agencies, like motor vehicles,
transportation and tax and finance, would have been shut down. What’s
next? Might he try to ram through a tax on soda and other sugary
drinks the same way?

Paterson seems to be trying to enlist some powerful enemies of
his budget initiatives into the fight to get lawmakers to vote for a
spending plan, piece by piece. Until and unless courts intervene,
Paterson may have come up with a powerful new weapon in his budget
brawl with lawmakers.

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