WXXI Local Stories
Mon July 21, 2008
Busy Summer for Paterson
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – It's mid summer, but New York Governor David Paterson is still trying to conduct serious state business. He met with his cabinet today to talk about the looming multi billion dollar state deficit, and over the weekend he convened with legislative leaders.
Governor Paterson held his first formal meeting with state agency heads since before he took over from former Governor Spitzer, more than four months ago. Paterson says the main topic of discussion was the worsening economy. He says he's not ready with answers yet to react to the problems, but says it's important to confront the "turbulence".
"We're going to have to balance severe cuts in spending and a real professional look at our budget process and our budget as it stands now," Paterson said.
Paterson says the troubles at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as problems at the Wall Street giants Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, and others, could mean a loss to the state of $1.6 to $1.7 billion dollars in tax revenues.
Governor Paterson also has been spending time dealing with the legislature. Over the weekend, he met with legislative leaders at the governor's mansion. The governor is attempting to win agreement on a property tax cap, which newly elected Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says his house now supports. Paterson, a Democrat, praised Skelos for the Republican leader's willingness to cooperate, and offered a gentle dig at fellow Democrat, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also stood at the podium.
"He actually likes my bill, so you can see the new formation," Paterson said
"That's different," Speaker Silver dryly responded.
Silver continues to say that he won't agree to a cap on school property taxes unless there's a guarantee that recent increases in school funding, to reduce class size and offer pre-kindergarten, among other things, will continue.
Many members of Silver's democratic conference favor a circuit breaker instead, which would provide tax breaks to the poor and elderly. It would be financed by a new tax on the rich.
The Senate GOP is clinging to a slim two-seat majority in this election season, and many opponents of Senate incumbents have been making an issue of the property tax cap. Senator Skelos says many Senate Republicans have now decided to return to Albany later this summer to approve the governor's bill, and set a "tone" that they are serious about the matter.
Paterson says while Senate passage of his legislation is a "great start", he ultimately wants a three way agreement with the Assembly on the matter.
"My goal is to get us all on the same page," Paterson said.
Before the meeting, Speaker Silver, perhaps not wanting to be the odd man out, brought up a new subject. He wrote a letter to Governor Paterson urging him to get on board the Assembly's plan to help alleviate expected high heating oil prices next winter. Silver says he does not want people to have to make the choice of "freezing to death or starving to death".
Senator Skelos says he thinks the property tax cap issue, though, is of higher importance.
"Quite frankly, unless you can afford your house and you have a house, you're not going to worry about oil and gas heating it," said Skelos.
Paterson says both leaders are right. He says even though the state is facing financial troubles, he'll find the money to aid low income New Yorkers with their heating bills, saying it's a "humanitarian" issue.
The Governor could not predict when the next joint session of the legislature might occur, but he say he considers lawmakers to be full time, and wants to keep working on the state's problems. Paterson says it may be July, but he wants to act like it's April.