How wonderful it would be if the flurry of e-mails, op-eds and press releases from Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were magically transformed into an agreed upon budget.
But with July 1 right around the corner, the state is still without a budget and legislators in Albany remained stalled in what appears to be an interminable impasse.
“We haven’t been paid in three months,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem. “Without a budget, there is no pay for us legislators.”
So, how do they make it without a check? “Not very easily,” Wright laughed.
Wright also noted that it’s hard “to govern a state without money.”
His empathy for the governor, whom he has known for more than a generation, was evident, but “we don’t live in a bipartisan society,” he added, with an obvious slap at the recalcitrant Republicans in Albany.
Clearly, the problem isn’t all about stubborn Republicans, particularly in the Senate, where the Democrats hold a narrow majority and at least two or three of them have been less than cooperative.
“My Assembly colleagues and I are working with the Senate and the executive to complete the state budget,” said Silver in one of several missives. “We recognize that New York faces extraordinary fiscal challenges, and that this budget will include billions in cuts. However, we are committed to sparing our schools from the most devastating cuts, ensuring that our higher education system remains accessible to all New Yorkers and providing much-needed property tax relief. We are also committed to acting responsibly to complete this process and to continue the operations of government.”
Any cut in health care and education, which contains the bulk of the $136 billion budget, has always been problematic in Albany. “Cutting education, well, that’s the elephant in the room,” said Wright.
Even so, Silver continued, “the budget passed by the Legislature would dramatically reduce state spending, restore funding for our schools and maintain our fundamental commitment to ensuring that SUNY and CUNY remain affordable for all New Yorkers.” He said that the Assembly’s financial plan is consistent with Paterson’s latest emergency bill, “and provides adequate revenue to fund these critical restorations.”
“The governor’s decision to veto these bills will mean larger classes, higher property taxes and more expensive tuition for SUNY and CUNY students,” Silver said.
Sometime before the week is out, Wright believes, another emergency budget bill will be passed, despite threats from some legislators to vote it down.
With the budget three months overdue, the governor has resorted to emergency bills to keep the state afloat, and throughout the gridlock, he has taken pains to explain what it will take to close the $9.2 billion deficit, even in broader national terms.
“I urge the United States Senate to allow an up or down vote on legislation that will protect New York’s nascent economic recovery and the fragile recovery nationwide,” Paterson said in a recent statement. “Congress has been considering enhanced Medicaid funding for the states for over six months, and quick action on final passage is now critical. I appreciate the hard work of many in our congressional delegation who fight for Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, unemployment insurance and other important social safety net programs for New Yorkers.”
Paterson said he understood the desire to restrain and pay for federal spending, cutting funding for mandatory safety net programs, particularly during a period when the nation is enduring one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression.
“The most important thing we can do to avoid making our long-term deficit problem worse is to get the economy back on its feet,” Paterson stressed. “Federal and state government should continue to work together to ensure that Americans who have been hurt by this economic downturn receive the support they need and states do not become a drag on the economic recovery that Americans so badly need.”