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8:26 pm
Wed July 28, 2010

Special Session Produces No Action

Albany, New York –
A special legislative session ended with no action on the now nearly four months late state budget, and Governor Paterson vowing to keep lawmakers at the Capitol for another day.

Governor Paterson called legislators back to Albany after nearly a month's absence, to try to force them to complete the state budget, which was due back on April 1st.

But both houses gaveled in and gaveled back out within a matter of minutes, without acting on any of Paterson's bills.

The governor had issued a lengthy list of agenda items, including a revised revenue bill that includes new taxes on clothing, expanded state sponsored gambling, and other items. The State Assembly approved the tax and fee bill in early July, but Senate Democrats failed to garner the 32 votes needed to pass the measure. Senate Democrats refused to accept the governor's new revenue bill.

Several Senate Democrats, including Senate President, Malcolm Smith, and some Republicans did not show up for the session, so even if there were agreement on the bills, they would have been unlikely to pass.

Many lawmakers privately groused over what they viewed as a fruitless exercise. Senator Ruben Diaz was not shy about voicing his complaints publicly.

"It's a waste of time, it's waste of money," said Diaz. "The governor is adding to the deficit of the state of New York by calling us here to do nothing."

Without the revenue bill, the state's shaky finances will worsen. Paterson's budget officials already predict a cash flow crisis September 1st, and are seeking permission from the legislature to delay a multi billion dollar school aid payment until later that month.

Paterson is also seeking a plan to give public colleges and universities more financial autonomy, including the right to set their own tuitions. He also wants in place a contingency plan should expected federal Medicaid monies fail to materialize.

Senate Democrats favor some version of those two proposals, in fact, two Senators William Stachowski of Buffalo and Brian Foley of Long Island, who have public universities in their districts, the University of Buffalo, and Stony Brook University, have said they won't vote for the rest of the budget until the SUNY-CUNY autonomy plan is in place.

Senator Stachowski says, as far as he's been told, nothing's changed, and he's not backing down.

"I would hope that they continue to negotiate," said Stachowski.

The Governor's special session was called on the same day that Independent Counsel Judith Kaye's report was released, concerning Paterson's involvement in a top aid's domestic violence case.

Kaye, who was appointed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to complete the probe, found Paterson made some "errors in judgment", but did nothing illegal when he contacted the alleged victim. She had she accused Paterson aid David Johnson of assaulting her last Halloween.

Some lawmakers, including Senator Diaz, theorized that Paterson called the special session to distract attention from the report.

"Maybe he wanted to deviate attention from what's coming today, thinking he's was going to be found guilty," said Diaz. "Who knows?"

The governor, speaking earlier in the day, said he had not yet read the Independent Counsel's report, and could not comment, but when he was asked whether he deliberately called the session to deflect attention form the report, he grew angry.

"The legislature always finds a reason why they're the victim, when in fact the people of the State of New York are the victims," said Paterson. "They are the ones who are now approaching 120 days late on the budget."

Even though another session has been called for later Thursday, it's unlikely that any bills will be acted upon, as many of the vacationing Senators are not expected back this week. Senators have been told that they should be on call to return for next week.