WXXI Local Stories
Tue July 7, 2009
County Leader Sues, as Senate Unrest Continues
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The Senate stalemate is harming local governments around the state, and one county leader has filed a lawsuit to try to get the gridlock resolved for once and for all. Meanwhile, unrest continued in the divided State Senate.
In the weeks since the stalemate began on June 8th, Senators have failed to act on numerous sales tax extenders, hotel and mortgage recording tax renewals and increases that local governments were counting on to help balance their budgets in troubled economic times.
Already the City of New York has had to put off hiring 250 new police officers and 90 new emergency medical technicians, because the Senate has not approved a half a percentage increase in the sales tax worth an estimated $60 million dollars a month.
The City of Yonkers has been unable to send out tax bills and could run out of cash by the end of the month.
And counties say they can't write their new budgets without getting permission from the Senate to continue charging sales and other local taxes. Now, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is suing, and he says the courts have to get involved.
"The court can't punt on this," Levy said. "We need the court to make the decision."
A state Supreme Court judge has already rejected a lawsuit brought by Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith, saying it's up to the Senators to resolve their own differences over the rules of their house. Levy says his suit is different, because for the first time in the nearly month long stand off, there's now an injured party in the case.
"We're representing millions of people who are seeing serious dislocation as a result of this stalemate," said Levy.
Meanwhile- Senate Democrats called a regular Senate session, after gaveling out of the daily special session, and tried unsuccessfully to once again pass bills on the floor. The GOP- dominated coalition refused to participate. The bitter exchanges between the two sides were back as Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson said the other side was only interested in selfish, personal gain.
"They care about what I call T triple P'", said Sampson. " Titles, power, pork and patronage."
The June 8th coup leaders, Senator Pedro Espada, a Democrat, and Senator Dean Skelos, a Republican, countered that Senator Sampson and other Democratic leaders were not telling the rank and file the details of a power sharing agreement that they say would benefit all Senators. And they predicted that some Democratic Senators might be willing to vote on a resolution to change the Senate rules to more equitable ones as early as Thursday, if there's no movement.
Senator Espada has been meeting with three other Democrats, members of the so-called "four amigos", a group of swing Senators. But he says it's more than just the amigos who might be ready to defy the Democratic leaders, and says "over 20 members" "have expressed readiness to close on this matter".
It was unclear whether the resolution would include a new leadership vote or not.
As if to underscore Senator Espada's claims, the remaining three of the four amigos, Senators Ruben Diaz, Carl Kruger, and Hiram Monserrate, abruptly walked out of the Democrats- only session on the Senate floor, saying they were "fed up" with the Democratic leadership.
Later, in a statement, Diaz said he was not switching parties, or abandoning the Democratic conference of 31 members. But he said, "I am just tired of the circus", and said he didn't want to pass bills that Governor Paterson would likely refuse to sign.