No Fooling: Another April 1, Another Late State Budget

Governor says responsible budget is more important than timely one

Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday delayed $2.1 billion in payments for schools as New York State  missed today's budget deadline -- again. It's the third time in the last three years.

And given that the Legislature and Paterson are more than $1 billion apart in their proposals, no quick agreement on the budget is expected. Lawmakers return from their Passover-Easter break on April 7.
Now that a late budget is a foregone conclusion, Paterson downplayed the consequences of missing the deadline, saying "a responsible budget is more important than what time it is actually passed."
During a pre-taped statement fed to television stations Wednesday afternoon, Paterson said the state's budget deficit had increased to more than 9 billion dollars.
He urged New Yorkers to call their local legislators and demand tough choices to balance the budget.
Among others, here are some examples of projects that will be impacted by the emergency bills:

  • Gowanus Expressway Rehabilitation
  • Alexander Hamilton Bridge
  • Signing and lighting improvements on various interstates in the Bronx
  • State Island Expressway Access Improvements
  • Grand Central Parkway / 94th St. Interchange Improvement    

And the hours leading to the deadline for an on-time budget passed with rancor Wednesday, raising concern about how long New York will have to run on bare-bones emergency spending.

Paterson is considering delaying the 4 percent raises due to unionized state workers as he has already delayed school aid and construction projects. He said emergency measures are needed to keep the state solvent in the fiscal crisis because he and the Legislature, on its Passover-Easter holiday this week, didn't agree to a budget on time.

The 2010-11 budget was due midnight Wednesday. Instead, New York will operate on an austerity plan that excludes most spending, including a $2.1 billion aid payment schools expected this week.

The Public Employees Federation union on Wednesday refused to reopen its contract to accept concessions, saying Paterson is creating an atmosphere that won't easily lead to cooperation.

Proposals made in budget negotiations assumed the unions would agree to about $250 million or more in concessions.

"Until the state moves decisively to slash the use of costly consultants, PEF will not accept any demand for givebacks and we will continue to work to protect state jobs," said Kenneth Brynien, president of the union.

Ongoing talks with union leaders to achieve concessions have been fruitless, said an administration official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The administration's suggestions have included postponing raises this year and lagging a few days' pay, said the official, who wasn't authorized to comment on the private talks.

Labor unions and public schools are among the most well-protected special interests in the Legislature. The state's teachers unions and other public worker unions spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, particularly in election years like this one.

"None of us, including the Legislature, will benefit from a budget that appears to substitute election-year window dressing with real fiscal reform," Paterson said in a YouTube address released Wednesday asking New Yorkers to contact their legislators. "We have cash flow problems in this state that threaten the very nature of an orderly government function ... I think my colleagues are nervous about the cost of making these tough decisions."

In the Internet address, Paterson asked New Yorkers not to criticize their legislators, but to encourage them to reduce spending.

Hard feelings were felt in the legislative branch as the fear of another late budget became reality.

"Rather than work around the clock to get a budget done on time, Democrats in the Senate and Assembly waved the white flag and simply gave up," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County. "Instead of treating New Yorkers like April fools as the Democrats are doing, we owe it to every one of our constituents to work at getting a budget in place as soon as possible."

Democrats hold a 32-30 majority in the Senate after decades of Republican rule. Democrats note the budget was late 10 out of the last 12 years under a GOP majority.

"Senate Democrats are working to give New Yorkers a fair and responsible budget that controls spending, provides property tax relief, creates jobs and protects our investment in health care and education," said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Democratic majority.

The state budget has been late each of the last three years and on time just six times since 1975, often requiring costly borrowing by the state, schools, local government and nonprofit social service agencies to remain in operation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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