Paterson's Emergency Spending Bill to Cut $300M

By Michael Gormley
|  Saturday, Jun 12, 2010  |  Updated 9:29 AM EDT
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Gov. David Paterson on Friday called for $327 million in spending cuts in mental health and human services programs in his latest emergency spending bill, setting up a showdown with lawmakers Monday that could shut down state government.

Paterson's bill was negotiated with legislative leaders through Friday and more talks are expected over the weekend. The bill takes another small slice out of a $9.2 billion deficit in the budget that was due April 1.

Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. said in an interview Friday he won't vote for another emergency bill that cuts funding to the poor and needy in his Bronx district. If he holds to that, the Senate's razor-thin Democratic majority would need at least one rare Republican crossover vote to pass the emergency spending bill and avoid an unprecedented shutdown.

But Republicans, after being briefed on Paterson's bill, wouldn't say if they will make up for Diaz and support the bill Monday, or reject it, triggering a shutdown. GOP Senate spokesman Scott Reif noted that last week's spending bill was negotiated over the weekend by Democrats, excluding Republicans. That bill changed between the Friday it was made public and last Monday's vote, so no decision will be made until they see the final bill Monday.

Some of the Republicans representing districts with large populations of state workers were pressured hard by their Democratic challengers to keep state payrolls and operations running, or face the political consequences this election year.

Republican Sen. Hugh Farley of Schenectady County was criticized by Democratic candidate Susan Savage, who said the veteran senator had to "cut the politics and do the job that he was elected to do."

Senate GOP spokesman John McArdle said Savage was "taking her orders from New York City Democrats."

Paterson's budget director, Robert Megna, said much of what the Republicans proposed is in the spending bill, although just $15 million to $20 million in cuts were solely sought by the Senate GOP.

For example, the Republicans sought to delay a 10-percent increase in the state's welfare grant to save $28 million, but that proposal was rejected, Megna said.

The Democratic governor and the Democrats who control the Senate and Assembly now need the Senate Republicans, with whom Democrats have been feuding all year. Democrats have a 32-30 majority in the chamber, where 32 votes are needed to pass legislation.

Paterson earlier Friday objected to part of the Republicans' $740 million in health care cuts. He said some of the ideas conflict with federal law and others overestimate the value of savings and would result in deficits months from now.

"This is how we got into this trouble in the first place," Paterson said at the groundbreaking in Crown Point for a replacement bridge over Lake Champlain linking New York and Vermont.

"I hope he (Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos) isn't saying we have to accept all of his proposals," Paterson said. "However, I am not going to be intimidated or threatened."

Senate GOP spokesman Mark Hansen said most of the proposals are based on estimates provided by Paterson's budget division.

Paterson said the Legislature abdicated its responsibility.

"Fear and anxiety over political races or the danger of the public reaction to making tough decisions cannot be an excuse for legislators not performing their duty," Paterson said.

Advocates for the poor and needy served by the state were alarmed.

Andreas Kriefall, upstate director of the Hunger Action Network, said the Paterson administration is making even deeper cuts in social services programs than it had originally proposed, following further talks with legislative leaders.

"It's a kind of a massacre," Kriefall said. "They've made it very clear they're cutting it out of the poorest New Yorkers rather than taxing the richest ones."

He referred to the strong opposition to raising the income tax rate a second year in a row on wealthier New Yorkers.

On Monday, the Legislature passed $775 million in cuts for the 2010-11 fiscal year, most of which were proposed by Paterson. New York City area hospitals were expected to be hit with $250 million of the reductions.

While vexing for hospitals, nursing homes and clinics, many of which operate on a thin line of solvency, the package approved by the Legislature was less than the $1 billion in cuts Paterson had proposed in his executive budget. It includes $6 million in cuts for stem-cell research, a top priority for Paterson, who is legally blind.

Health care is about 40 percent of state spending.

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