Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday made plans to force campaigning lawmakers to return to Albany in the coming weeks to complete a state budget that's nearly four months overdue, expressing frustration with the ongoing stalemate.
The Democratic majorities of the Assembly and Senate had insisted the governor can't order any more so-called "extraordinary" sessions focusing on the budget because they made sure they never formally ended such a session their fellow Democrat called months ago. On Wednesday, Paterson rescinded those previous sessions, which he said restores his constitutional right to compel the Legislature into session.
"It is clear to me that this Legislature would rather play parliamentary games than finish a budget that is fifteen weeks late due to their inaction," Paterson said.
"This is a silly charade, and the idea that the Legislature has been in extraordinary session for the last 185 days ... is absurd," Paterson said. "I will exercise my constitutional authority to bring them all back to Albany, even if it is an election year."
That would violate a long honored unofficial policy of not interrupting the campaign season. Although extraordinary sessions are common after the regular sessions end in late June, most of them are called after Election Day.
The budget was due April 1. When passed, the 2010-11 fiscal plan will be one of the latest in Albany's long history of overdue spending plans.
Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran says the Senate and Assembly leaders are meeting separately because Paterson refuses to negotiate with them.
"If he changes his position again, we will be happy to meet with him anywhere, anytime to discuss restorations and closing down the budget," Shafran said. "Legislative leaders are working to resolve the outstanding budget issues and the Senate hopes to see engagement by the chief executive in some form other than another press release."
He wouldn't comment on whether the Democratic majority would return on Paterson's order without agreements.
Before breaking for the July 4 holiday weekend, the Legislature passed almost all of the $136 billion state budget. But the last piece of the package, a revenue bill, has yet to be passed in the Senate. A couple of Democratic senators are holding out for approval of a Paterson plan to improve public universities that would benefit their districts.
The Assembly, which has passed all the budget bills, is ready to return at the governor's request, said majority spokeswoman Sisa Moyo.
Paterson, although a lame duck, has leverage. Until lawmakers agree on a budget, they will continue to have their pay withheld under a decade-old law. So far, lawmakers have had more than $27,500 of their annual base pay of $79,500 withheld since April 1. Although many lawmakers are lawyers in big firms, most can't rely on outside income and have taken out low-interest loans.
In addition, lawmakers want to negotiate the restoration of about 6,700 budget items added by the Legislature that Paterson vetoed. They include $190 million in pork-barrel grants for lawmakers to be sent to health, social service and civic groups back in their districts.
Paterson said he won't negotiate until legislative leaders come to him with agreements on his two critical issues: A contingency plan in case $1 billion in federal Medicaid money doesn't come through, as feared, and a plan to give more power to the public university systems, including allowing them to raise tuition without Albany's approval.
Any override is unlikely because the Senate's Republican minority, which voted as a bloc against he Democrat-negotiated budget, could deny the two-thirds vote needed to overcome a veto.