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NC prisons' fate could hang on Paterson budget extender

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says there's progress on the state budget. Silver said his house plans to pass the public safety, transportation and economic development portions of the budget today.
Silver says he's not fazed by the governor's new ultimatum, to pass a budget by June 28th or be forced to vote on approve Paterson's spending plan in emergency spending bill. And he says he thinks some kind of accord on a full budget can be reached soon, perhaps by Monday or Tuesday.

The North Country's bipartisan legislative team is especially worried about the emergency bill expected from Paterson today. "Public safety" includes prisons, including North Country prison the governor has said he wants to close. Martha Foley has more.

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Martha Foley
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The public safety provisions in Gov. Paterson's latest emergency spending bill could decide the fate of three North Country prisons.

Budget Office spokesman Eric Kriss spoke with WNBZ yesterday:

"We are at the moment and intending to - today or tomorrow - send up the public protection and general government budget bill to the legislature," Kriss said. "That bill will address the fate of the four prisons that the Executive Budget proposed closing."

In January, Paterson included the proposed closure of the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility, and state prisons at Lyon Mountain and Ogdensburg as part of widespread cuts to close a $9.2 billion deficit.  

The state Department of Corrections argues the facilities are no longer required because inmate populations have shrunk.

Kriss didn't say what's actually contained in the coming budget bill. But he repeated the governor's timeline

"The one thing to keep in mind is that both Moriah and Ogdensburg are not actually scheduled to close until April 1 of 2011, which would be the 2011-2012 budget year," Kriss said. "The other two are actually scheduled to close in January of 2011, which is part of this fiscal year."

That means the majority of the savings from the closing facilities at Moriah and Ogdensburg wouldn't be realized until next year.

Hundreds of jobs are at stake.

State Senators Betty Little and Darrell Aubertine, and Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Janet Duprey have lobbied hard to salvage the prisons. The current draft Assembly budget would fund Moriah Shock, but not Lyon Mountain. The Senate draft would only fund the Ogdensburg facility.

Little's spokesman Dan MacEntee said the local legislative team is holding its breath until the public safety appropriations bill's release sometime today.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said just about anything can make its way into an extender. And there's always a chance those bills will pass because - quote - "nobody wants to shutdown government."

She hopes the stand-alone legislation will spare the prisons, and the jobs she says are vital to North Country communities.

"We've had the opportunity to talk to both DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer and Governor Paterson regarding Moriah Shock and Lyon Mountain," she said. "We're trying to get them to let us use Lyon Mountain as an annex and take away just the administrative end. Keeping them open is helpful to all of us."

Sayward says both leaders seemed receptive.

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