The Senate's Democratic majority won't attend Democratic Gov. David Paterson's address to a joint session of the Legislature Monday, when he will try to build support for attacking New York's latest fiscal crisis, according to state officials informed of the decision.
"We're not returning for a photo op'' for Paterson, a senior Democratic official said of the governor, who is languishing in the polls as he seeks election in 2010. The official, who is close to the Senate's majority leaders, spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak for the senators.
"A photo op is going to China for a trade mission while ignoring the widening state budget gap,'' said Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook, referring to the trip led by Democratic senators last month. "Addressing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is no photo op, and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have lost their jobs or homes should be insulted by the insinuation.''
Paterson called for the joint session and has ordered an extraordinary session Tuesday at the same time many legislators will be in Puerto Rico attending an annual conference of lawmakers. The Somos 2009 Winter Conference at the Intercontinental San Juan Resort & Casino began Thursday and ends Tuesday.
The governor wants lawmakers to act on midyear spending cuts in school aid and health care along with measures to raise revenue without raising taxes to close a $3 billion deficit that he says threatens the state's ability to pay its bills in December.
The Senate's Republican minority and the Assembly's Democratic majority and Republican minority plan to attend the address Monday.
"It's deplorable and disrespectful to the governor and the office of the governor,'' said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb. "The people they represent should hold them accountable for that ... if the governor wants to bring us all together in one room on this, we should be there.''
Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran said he didn't think the senators made a decision yet on whether to attend Monday's session, which lawmakers aren't required to attend. Shafran said the majority would attend the extraordinary session, which lawmakers must attend under the constitution to consider issues presented by the governor. The Legislature isn't required to vote on any measures in the extraordinary session.
Senate Democrats have held deficit hearings in Buffalo, New York City, and Long Island and, on Thursday, in Westchester. Thousands of New Yorkers spoke and hundreds of groups from labor to school advocates commented.
"We have been conducting the statewide hearings and when the hearings are complete, we intend to continue negotiations with the executive and the Assembly and return to Albany to reach an agreement, but not before that time,'' Shafran said.
Historically, governors including Paterson have seen at least temporary boosts in their polls when they talk tough to the Legislature about curbing public spending.
Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin of Albany County said Thursday he hadn't been told his conference wouldn't attend Paterson's speech.
"I would hope that if the governor calls us into joint session, we would be there,'' Breslin said. "I think sometimes when there's not discussions that are open, that things like joint sessions can become political events and not lead to a consensus.''
In a leaders' meeting a week ago, Paterson and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson appeared to clash over whether the Senate's hearings were intended to delay action on politically sensitive spending cuts. Sampson insisted they were not intended to delay, but to get public's input and support before any cuts.
The Assembly's Democratic majority and the Senate's Republican minority declined to comment on the Senate Democrats.