The Legislature decided not to address a $315 million budget deficit in its special session Monday even after the state comptroller said inaction would make New York's fiscal crisis worse by requiring even deeper cuts in coming months.
Addressing the latest deficit was the main purpose of the session called by Gov. David Paterson, although lawmakers say he didn't release a bill for negotiation until late in the day. Such sessions are estimated to cost more than $50,000 a day in per diem expense checks of about $170 for lawmakers and the price of travel, staff lodging, meals, utilities and more.
"While Senate Democrats were prepared to take action to bring New York's budget into balance, the governor failed to submit legislation in time for thoughtful consideration and review," said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate's Democratic majority.
Shafran said the governor's bill was delivered to the Legislature two hours after the special session was to begin.
"Budget cuts to health care, education, and social and senior services require thorough deliberation, not a rushed process that hurts the state's most vulnerable citizens," Shafran said. "We look forward to continuing an open dialogue about how best to resolve the extraordinary budget issues confronting New York this year and in the years to come."
The Senate's Republicans called the decision an "irresponsible lack of action that will only push the state's budget problems to another day."
There was no need for the Assembly to act on the bill once the Senate decided to pass. Paterson said he wouldn't force the Legislature back to Albany in special session unless legislatives leaders decided they wanted to address the deficit.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the state will be in worse shape in January if the Legislature doesn't address the budget deficit,
He insisted the deficit is really almost $1 billion, or three times greater than Paterson's estimate. Without action Monday, DiNapoli said continued overspending will make the fiscal crisis even crisis worse in January.
Paterson seemed to accept that his deficit reduction program was going nowhere in the Legislature, even though it was the main purpose of the special session he called.
"I called it as much to clear my conscience as anything else," Paterson told reporters after meeting privately with legislative leaders. "I just thought it was my responsibility to at least present to the Legislature the opportunity to reduce the debt and give the next governor and the next Legislature a level playing field.
"The reality is if they do it or they don't do it, it will impact on budget negotiations in January, which is what I was trying to avoid," Paterson said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the deficit can be addressed in January when lawmakers will be tackling a 2011-12 budget with a much larger projected deficit.
"We anticipate having a $9 (billion), $10 billion deficit, so whatever the number is, it's smaller, and I think we can deal with it in that context, if we can't deal with it today," Silver said.
Senate Republican leader Skelos of Nassau County said it would be best to discuss the deficit as soon as possible and pointed out that Republicans have been excluded from negotiations on the deficit and other bills.
For Paterson, the special session was likely his last legislative session after 20 years in the Senate and two years as governor, succeeding Eliot Spitzer who resigned amid a prostitution investigation.
The Democrat has sought to establish a legacy based on his early forecast of historic deficits and the numerous special sessions he held to address them.
Initially, he and the Legislature cut billions of dollars in spending. But the Legislature has opposed him more in recent months as Paterson's relationship with lawmakers grew more strained. On Monday, Paterson appeared to be lacking the support he needed even to rename the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel for his hero, Gov. Hugh Carey, who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Skelos estimated the cost of renaming the tunnel would be $4 million to $6 million, based on the renaming of New York City's Triborough Bridge in 2008. He questioned the expense in a fiscal crisis.