Senate Coalition Vows to Kill Paterson's School Aid Cuts

Paterson says the cuts are needed to address a $3.2 billion deficit

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Governor David Paterson has suggested some sweeping budget cuts around the state.

    A new coalition of upstate and suburban Democratic senators say they will refuse to vote for any midyear school aid cuts sought by Gov. David Paterson and still being negotiated by the Senate's New York City-based leaders.

    If it holds, the coalition of seven Democrats would kill the chance of disruptive midyear school aid cuts in any deficit reduction package.

    Paterson, a Democrat, says the cuts are needed to address a $3.2 billion deficit.

    Senate Republicans are uniformly opposed to Paterson's proposed 4.5 percent aid cut, and the new Democratic group would mean most senators would be committed to blocking any school cuts in the Senate. Democrats have a 32-30 majority.

    Senate and Assembly Democratic leaders also oppose the cuts, but continue negotiating all possibilities.

    On Thursday, Paterson said he doubted school aid could escape a cut because it is a major part state spending.

    The coalition says the school aid cuts would force higher local school taxes upstate, on Long Island and in New York City's northern suburbs, where taxpayers already face some of the highest property taxes. They also oppose Paterson's plan to require most suburban and upstate school districts to lose a higher share of aid, which he said could be covered by their financial reserves. Poorer, urban districts, including New York City, with lower or no reserves would be affected less.

    "I, along with my colleagues from across upstate and Long Island, are holding strong to the position that midyear school cuts will not have our support,'' said David Valesky, a Democrat representing Madison, Onondaga, Oneida and Cayuga counties.

    "We need to share the sacrifice evenly across this state because in emerging from this crisis, we will need a strong upstate economy to ensure we avoid repeating this scenario,'' said Sen. Darrel Aubertine, a Democrat representing Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties.

    "These midstream reductions cannot be made on the backs of Long Island and upstate taxpayers,'' said Sen. Craig Johnson, a Nassau County Democrat.

    Paterson's spokesman, Morgan Hook, said taking such a large portion of the budget off the table is fiscally irresponsible.

    "If these senators want to be serious partners in the governor's efforts to address the deficit and control state spending, they would put out a press release about what they will cut, not what they won't cut,'' Hook said.

    Fights are expected over the upstate and Long Island seats in the 2010 elections. Off-year elections earlier this month showed a backlash against incumbents statewide, most of whom were Democrats.

    "Senate Republicans said 'no' to any midyear school aid cuts when Governor Paterson proposed them over a month ago,'' said Senate GOP spokesman John McArdle. "And now, after Democrats upstate and in suburban areas get tossed from office, Senate Democrats suddenly get religion. ... Had any one of these upstate and suburban senators stood up to their New York City leaders and said no when it mattered, schools would not be facing midyear cuts, and taxpayers would not be bracing for increases in their property taxes.''

    Other members of the coalition in the Senate Democratic conference are Sens. William Stachowski of Erie County, Neil Breslin of Albany County, Antoine Thompson of Erie and Niagara counties, and Brian X. Foley of Suffolk County.

    The group also opposes proposed cuts in health care as untenable.

    There was no immediate comment from the Assembly's Democratic majority.