Gov. David Paterson, left, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, center, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Geneva, arrive for a legislative leaders budget meeting at the Capitol in Albany last week.
They seem to be playing a never-ending game of chicken in Albany -- and finally voters seem to be getting tired of it.
Governor Paterson and the legislative leaders are still at it, more than 80 days after a new state budget was supposed to be in place.
And a new Quinnipiac Poll seems to show clearly how the voters feel about it. According to the poll, 83 percent of voters -- the highest number ever measured in the state -- believe the state government is dysfunctional.
The people, it appears, have a greater taste for major reform than the law makers in Albany. According to this survey, 59 percent if the voters think it’s time to re-draw legislative district lines and they want candidates for office to pledge to support such action. That would enable voters to find some new people to represent them if they don't like the incumbents.
Paterson says: “This process has to end” and he warns, if the legislators can’t come to a final agreement on the 2010-11 budget by June 28, he will force them to accept his spending program or risk shutting down the government.
Threats and counter-threats have been flying through the air in Allbany for weeks. Since the normal April 1 budget deadline, the Governor has submitted one-week bills to keep the state running.
Now, as they continue the struggle to close a $9.2-billion deficit, Paterson is in ultimatum mode. He says: “It’s time to set a deadline, and I’m going to set it.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson say they’re optimistic a solution will be reached. But Paterson is approaching the deadline with passion. If a deal isn’t reached by Monday, he says he’ll put his whole budget plan into that week’s extender bill, needed to keep state operations running.
“I said June 28,” he declared. “That budget is going to get passed on Monday.”
In a sense, Paterson is providing cover to all the leaders. He’s not running this year. They are. And they can always blame him down the line for any unpalatable cuts in spending.
Blair Horner of state NYPIRG, a watchdog group, told me: “I think they’re all groping for a close down strategy.”
The taxpayers can hope he’s right. The game of chicken among our leaders has gone on long enough.