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Budget talks devolve, threatening government shut down

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Lawmakers in Albany are raising the scenario of a government shut down next week if they do not iron out their differences over the late state budget. As Karen DeWitt reports, Democrats and Republicans are already pointing fingers over who might be to blame, if the government stops running.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent


Governor Paterson thought he had solved the problem of the more than two months long state budget gridlock, when he began including his spending cuts as part of the weekly emergency spending measures, beginning with health care.

But now, at least two members of the Senate Democratic Majority say they will not vote for another round of cuts to key programs as part of the extenders. Democrats only have 32 votes, so if Senators Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz follow through with their threats, Republican votes would be needed to approve the extenders, or the government would have to shut down.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos has already hinted he might be OK with that.

"If it means stopping things for a couple of days, then we're prepared to do it," Skelos said on Tuesday.

At a very contentious public leaders meeting Wednesday Governor Paterson at first seemed to be begging Republicans for their votes for his next budget extender, which he says will include cuts to mental health programs and to human services, like welfare. Paterson had earlier considered putting his proposed $1 a pack tax on cigarettes into the extenders, but said Wednesday that he would withdraw that proposal.

"I don't think with your understanding of government and your commitment to government, frankly, that it would be a good thing to do," said Paterson.

But, as the meeting progressed the tone changed. Democrats began setting up the GOP for blame, if the extenders fail. Afterward, Paterson castigated the Republicans.

"I am shocked and I'm appalled," said Paterson. "Senator Skelos has told us that he and the Republican Senators are going to shut down the government."

Senate Democrats released a news release, calling Skelos "Doomsday Dean."

But Senator Skelos shot back that it's the Democrats who hold the majority in both houses and the governor's office.

"It would be our fault, when we're in the Minority, that government is being closed down?" Skelos asked.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson sought to downplay the potential government crisis, saying no one should underestimate his ability to deliver all 32 Democratic votes in the end. He says, after all, he's managed to find the votes for previous extenders, as well as on a vote to reopen parks.

"Everybody here has been saying that I have not been able to get 32 votes on a lot of other issues, and I have been able to get 32 votes on those issues," said Sampson.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was at the Capitol to lobby for more education funding for the city, weighed in on the dispute over who would be blamed if the government shuts down.

"Last time I checked, we had a Democratic Governor a Democratic Majority in the Assembly, and a Democratic Majority in the Senate," said Bloomberg. "So I don't know how you take it to any other Party."

By end of day, both sides had pulled back on their positions somewhat.  Senator Skelos and Governor Paterson held a private meeting, and the GOP Leader presented the governor with ideas for spending cuts and more Medicaid savings that he would like to see included in the budget extenders.

"We are going to make solid cut recommendations to the governor," said Skelos, who said it will then be up to Paterson to convince Majority Party Democrats to go along with the cuts.

Skelos says if those cuts are part of the budget extenders due to be voted on next Monday, then Skelos says "a number of us within the conference, including me, would be prepared to vote for it."

A spokesman for the governor says Paterson will be looking at the Senator's ideas for cuts, and will consider them.

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