Back in March he looked like a lame duck governor with no power and no prospect for future achievements.
After his battle in recent days with the Legislature, Paterson seems to be a man who has reached his finest, legacy-building moment.
As Blair Horner of the state watchdog group, NYPIRG, told me: “The fact that some sort of resolution has been brought to the budget process is due entirely to the fact that the Governor drove it. He deserves credit for using the cutting edge of his power.”
And, even as the Assembly and Senate passed their own budget plan, Paterson began a long process of vetoing many of their new spending bills, including additional school aid. He was asserting the power of the governor’s office after months of bickering with legislative leaders.
In Albany, Paterson has been a lonely voice for fiscal prudence. The legislative leaders have dissed him again and again. For the voters what’s been happening has been an ugly spectacle. Week after week budget deadlines have been missed. Again and again the Governor has summoned the two houses of the Legislature to go to work and they have adjourned after hardly doing anything.
As Bill Hammond of the Daily News pointed out, Senate Republicans asked for the price tag on the new budget their leaders proposed and the Finance Committee Chair, Karl Kruger, admitted he didn’t know, promising to “have the numbers available for you within several hours.”
And, Hammond said, legislators wanted to know how much cash they were required to have in their hands before voting on budget bills. Kruger’s “nonchalant” reply: “That would not be available.”
So which is more “insane,” Hammond asked, that the budget was “brought to the floor without answers to these basic questions or that Democrats overwhelmingly voted yes anyway?”
Paterson said: “I never get any joy in vetoing education money. It breaks my heart to do this. The only reason I am doing this is I think that otherwise we are proverbially kicking the can down the road and creating a greater problem.”
The legislative leaders insist that they are on the side of fiscal sanity, that their budget would dramatically reduce state spending and restore funding to our schools.
Paterson has been trying to talk turkey to these guys for months. And now, three months after the budget deadline, the legislators are finally heard from.
We have not witnessed negotiation but, rather, an attempt at government by ultimatum.
With all his flaws, Paterson seems more forthright than the people he’s dealing with. As Horner suggests, this could be his finest hour.