With the state budget more than two months late and continued discord in Albany, the fear of an unprecedented shutdown of state government is getting more attention among state planners.
A shutdown would likely mean a fraction of the number of troopers patrolling highways and investigating crimes, delayed tax refunds, suspension of lottery games and closed unemployment offices just when the state is hovering around its highest unemployment rate in decades.
That's the snapshot, based on other states' experience, from planners in the state Senate's Democratic majority after meetings with Gov. David Paterson's administration.
But not everyone agrees. Senators including Republicans in the minority who won't rule out voting against emergency spending bills to keep the state running say any shutdown would be gradual and would likely not be the scary scenario that Democrats claim.
"There's one big state agency in New York City, and that's the MTA," he said, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the city's transit. "I assume they have their own budgets, so they'd probably be OK for a short period of time." He said bridges and tunnels would likely remain open, too, although no tolls may be collected.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that some state shutdowns, such as Tennessee's partial shutdown in 2002, forced suspended classes at public universities and a halt to state-funded construction and issuance of driver's licenses. But essential services, including public health programs, welfare, child support services, mental health clinics, prisons and highway patrols, continued.
For the state to shut down, the Legislature would have to fail to pass one of Paterson's emergency spending bills. His 10th is due for a vote Monday and will include controversial and substantial spending cuts to programs in a piecemeal approach to creating a 2010-11 state budget. The Legislature under law is forced to either approve the whole bill or shut down government.