As the Senate sought to negotiate and further delay a late budget to head off 6,900 promised vetoes, Gov. David Paterson rifled through a 2-foot high stack of the Legislature's budget bills, voiding them at a rate of one every 3 seconds Thursday.
"I'm not talking to them," Paterson told reporters during a break in vetoing the Legislature's budget bills that he said the state can't afford. "They sent me a message. They sent that budget that was out of balance."
Paterson has until the end of July 9 to complete his vetoes, but he expects to finish sooner, perhaps as soon as Friday afternoon. In his office, his counsel Peter Kiernan and several staffers reviewed and passed each veto message to Paterson. At the end of the rectangular table, Kiernan handed him a bill, explained which it was, then the legally blind governor put his nose to the paper and signed his initials.
He said many of the programs are laudable and important, but unaffordable. His vetoes Thursday included grants to the elementary school his children attended, a service group whose board of directors includes his wife, and a group to which his mother had been a member.
Meanwhile, the Democrat-led Senate reversed its course in order to force negotiations with Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Senators returned to session, but there was no plan by Democrats to pass the final bill needed to close the budget that was due April 1.
"It is shameful and it makes absolutely no sense," said Sen. Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican. He and his GOP colleagues pledged to stay in Albany until the budget was finished.
"It's now over three months late, this budget of ours," said Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco of Onondaga County. "We should be able to at least consider this budget today, before the Senate majority Democrats have us go home for the weekend."
Democratic Senate leader John Sampson made a surprise announcement Wednesday night that the chamber would not, as scheduled, approve the final budget bill on Thursday. Instead, he said the Senate would break for the July 4 holiday weekend. He said he wanted to start negotiations on bills Paterson is insisting the Legislature take up before he discusses any other action, but only after he completes his vetoes.
Holding the final bill of a budget provides substantial leverage to force negotiations in the Legislature. Until the final bill is passed, lawmakers' pay will continue to be withheld. That back pay is now about $20,000 for each legislator, pay withheld under law since April 1 budget deadline passed.
The next stop for the batch of vetoes will be the Assembly, which will have to decide whether to try to override any or all of them. But that's seems unlikely because the Republicans in the Senate's minority, excluded from budget negotiations and voting in a bloc against every budget bill, could deny the Senate's Democratic majority the two-thirds vote they need.
After the vetoes are done, Paterson said his top priority remains creation of a contingency fund in the event $1 billion in threatened Medicaid funding known as FMAP, never comes from Washington. That would blow a hole in the state's budget in coming weeks or months. He also wants approval for his plan to empower the public universities to grown unfettered by Albany politics and be able to approve their own tuition increases, as much as 8 percent a year.
"It would be an easy thing to leave Albany," Sampson said, "but it is the responsible thing for us to continue negotiations ... to have a plan at least for FMAP."
"If the governor, in fact, wants to sit down and talk about it, we're prepared to talk about it," Silver said Thursday.
Silver said he is optimistic all or most or most of the Medicaid funding will come to the state and contingency plan isn't needed. If the aid is lost, he said the Legislature and governor can deal with the deficit then.
Silver also opposes Paterson's bill to allow the State University of New York and City University of New York to set tuition, fearing poor students will be priced out.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said the proposal would allow the public universities to grow into national academic powers, while keeping the poorest students in college.
The legislative session had been scheduled to end June 21.