As the Governor and lawmakers were in Albany Tuesday grappling with the budget nightmare du jour, the budget savvy Lieutenant Governor was in his private office in Midtown. Seem strange?
"The truth is I don't have power," Richard Ravitch told NBCNewYork in an exclusive interview Tuesday, explaining the nature of his job. "All I have is my big mouth and some don't like me using it as much as I do."
Ravitch is right about that. Some of his colleagues did not appreciate what he said in the interview. While he was diplomatic and never criticized his boss, he admitted he has not been attending budget meetings, saying he had not been invited.
Most Lieutenant Governors don't have a seat at the table during budget talks. But Ravitch's role was supposed to be different. When David Paterson hired him a year ago, he promised Ravitch would "stabilize New York's economy and bring us to a state of recovery again."
The Ravitch-to-the-Rescue idea went south after the Lieutenant Governor presented his long term plan for the State in March, including a proposal to borrow $2 billion to help close the $9 billion deficit. After Ravitch's announcement, Paterson publicly rejected the idea, saying borrowing would be fiscally irresponsible.
Ravitch tells NBCNewYork he discussed the borrowing idea with Paterson before announcing it. Ravitch said the Governor waited to gauge reaction to the plan before taking a public position.
"It was all discussed," Ravitch said. "It was perfectly proper for [the Governor] to say 'I want to see what the reaction is' berfore I take a position. I don't blame him for that at all."
Ravitch feels frustrated that so much attention has been paid to the borrowing aspect of his plan,which also called for deep recurring spending reductions and strict limits on repaying the debt. Ravitch explains why he suggested borrowing: "Ultimately I don't think it would be possible to cut $9 billion and raising taxes is equally unpopular."
A Paterson administration source tells NBCNew York the Governor distanced himself from the Ravitch planl, and has since distanced Ravitch from the budget process because he saw the legislature seizing on the borrowing idea and did not want to enable them to make irresponsible decisions.
A source close to the Governor said that Ravitch had been invited to leaders' meetings but chose not to attend, saying inexplicably that he would be "more useful in the city." The source suggested Ravitch is unhappy that his plan was sidelined.
"I don't boycott anything," Ravitch told NBCNewYork. "I'm here to help in any way I can and if I thought I could help I would be anywhere it is that I should be to help."
Paterson, during a radio appearance Tuesday, said Ravitch "has not been in Albany during any of these leaders meetings and when he's in Albany, I'm sure he'll join them."
The next leaders' meeting is scheduled for Wednesday and Ravitch did not appear to have plans to attend.
"This is the first week I haven't spent a lot of time in Albany but I haven't stepped back. Everybody knows that if I could be helpful I'd be there in a minute," Ravitch said.
Ravitch tells NBCNewYork Paterson's lame duck status doesn't help.
"Being a lame duck is very critical to a Governor's power. That's something you can't do anything about," he said.
Ravitch says the budget needs to include discipline. "If it doesn't, I feel very sorry for the next Governor."
When asked if Andrew Cuomo would have an easier time getting out of the current mess, Ravitch said, "You know, I don't want to comment on that. I don't know what Andrew Cuomo would do with this current budget deficit. But since I think he's gonna have an even bigger one next year if elected, we'll see."
Ravitch also predicts there will be a budget deal within the next two weeks, citing lawmakers' "eagerness to go home, get paid and campaign."
New York State Senators and Assemblymembers are facing reelection this year and have not received a paycheck since they missed the April 1 budget deadline. The law, however, does allow the Governor to be paid when the budget is late.