WXXI Local Stories
4:58 pm
Tue November 17, 2009

For Paterson, Budget Fight is High Stakes

Albany, New York – Governor Paterson has made resolving the state's financial crisis central to his governorship in recent weeks. He's made numerous media appearances, given an address to the legislature, and held two weeks of special sessions aimed at passing bills to close the gap. So far, it hasn't succeeded. The legislature, particularly Democrats in the Senate, have refused to go along with the governor's plans to cut spending on schools and health care. Paterson says despite continued rocky relations with the Senate, he's not giving up on trying to fix New York's finances.

"This is not about how we're getting along," said Paterson. "This is about the fact that we're short on cash in December, and we have obligations that we have to pay."

Steve Greenberg, with Siena Research Institute, says the governor runs a risk by placing so much attention on the budget crisis, because the public will be then more aware of the outcome. And Greenberg says the choices to plug the deficit aren't very palatable, either raising taxes, which angers many voters, or cutting spending, which invites the wrath of organized education and health care interests, who have not been hesitant in the past to run negative television ads. Either way, says Greenberg, the governor can't win.

"If he is successful, voters will know that it's his fault', that education health care spending have been cut," said Greenberg. "The governor is in a very difficult political position."

Paterson seems determined to seek election as governor next year, despite consistently low approval ratings in the polls, and he admits the fiscal crisis has taken its toll. But he says he's not focusing on politics right now.

"I'm not thinking about redeeming myself politically," said Paterson, in an interview. "I'm thinking about doing what's right for the state of New York. And I have to suffer politically for it, then let that be the case."

Paterson says trying to do the right thing is more important to him than the outcome of the 2010 elections.

Greenberg says there's no doubt that Paterson became governor at a difficult time. He took office in March of 2008, just as the effects of the recession began to hit. The most recent Siena poll shows Paterson trailing the popular Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, by 59 points among potential Democratic primary voters. But he says, in the past few years, Attorney Generals have generally had it easier than the state's governors, because they're able to keep away from the maelstrom of legislative politics. Eliot Spitzer was an extremely popular Attorney General, but his approval ratings plummeted during his 14 months as governor.

By Tuesday's end, Paterson had met with legislative leaders in a private meeting, and said he was hopeful that a resolution to the budget crisis could be reached. If not, he says, he intends to continue to publicly make his case, and perhaps keep lawmakers at the Capitol until they agree with him.