WXXI Local Stories
4:37 am
Tue November 18, 2008

Paterson Cancels Special Session

Albany, New York – Governor David Paterson called off a special budget cutting session of the legislature, after it became clear he would get no cooperation from key legislators.

Paterson, realizing that his bills to cut $2 billion dollars out of the state budget were doomed to failure, instead called an open leaders meeting to confront lawmakers on their inability, so far, to offer counter proposals. After almost 90 minutes of tense and acrimonious discussions, the governor decided to withdraw his demand for a special session.

"It is clear that this special session, here on November 18th, will not yield the result that we want today," Paterson conceded.

The decision means that the state's now $15 billion dollar combined deficit will not be addressed until next January, at the earliest. Paterson will release his budget for next year on December 16th, and he says there is no time for another special session before the holidays. But he warned lawmakers that the painful decisions that they avoided making at the special session will become even more difficult as the fiscal situation continues to worsen.

"It is grim," said Paterson. "It is a horrible situation that our state has been put in."

By agreeing to post pone negotiations until after he's released next year's budget plan, Paterson was succumbing to demands by Senate Republicans that they view next year's proposals before acting on the governor's request for cuts in this year's budget. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says he's willing now to hold hearings jointly with the Assembly and return for another crack at a special session.

"I'm willing to come anytime," said Skelos. "But give me a bill."

Senator Skelos earlier in the day had threatened to put the governor's budget bills on the floor for a yes or no vote, a position that would embarrass many Democrats in the Senate who did not want to cross the governor or offend the various interest groups. Skelos' threat led Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith to accuse Skelos of "playing politics", and conducting a "charade" and "misleading the public".

Paterson sat back and let the confrontation escalate, finally stepping in to land some blows of his own. He accused Skelos of not suggesting "one cent" worth of budget cutting ideas, and of "twisting" some the governor's statements.

"Let me finish," Paterson demanded, as Skelos tried to interrupt.

"You've brought us nothing," Paterson continued angrily, holding up a blank piece of paper to illustrate his point. "You don't have anything on paper to show."

The fight between Paterson and the Senate Republicans took some of the heat off of Democrats, who control the Assembly. Many disagree with Paterson's proposals, but they have not had to speak up and risk offending numerous angry interest groups. The organizations made their presence known outside the Capitol, as hundreds of protesters chanted "tax the rich" and marched in a raw, biting wind.

Afterward, Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that defends school funding, says the legislature did the right thing by rejecting Paterson's plans and avoiding mid year school aid cuts.

"To cut, cut, cut all our communities is a bad idea," Easton said.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government reform organization, took a dimmer view of Tuesday's outcome.

"Essentially, they've punted," Horner said.

But Horner says at least now, all four of the legislative leaders have said publicly, on record, that they will act with the governor to resolve the state's fiscal crisis. He says whether or not that leads to anything in the future, remains to be seen.