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Lawmakers back to budget battle after special session bust

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New York's legislature promises to pass a budget that is nearly three months overdue. But a nasty fight with Gov. David Paterson over the weekend won't likely end today. The Democratic governor vows to veto the Democrat-led Legislature's additional spending if lawmakers don't meet his requirements for a balanced budget. Paterson forced lawmakers to come to the Capitol for a rare Sunday evening special session, but he could not make them vote on his budget proposals. Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent
The latest battle over the nearly 3-month-late state budget began Friday when Governor Paterson, after negotiating unsuccessfully with legislative leaders for days, put the rest of his budget plan in an emergency extender bill due for passage Monday. The legislature is again faced with the choice of passing the measure or partially shutting down the government.

The new bills contain the budget's most controversial elements--school aids cuts, a plan to allow public colleges and universities to set their own tuition, new taxes on clothing, limits on charitable tax write-offs for the rich and authorization to sell wine in grocery stores. The measures also include a 4% property tax cap for local governments. Paterson's budget director Robert Megna says that the bills contain attempts at a compromise with the legislature. "We think we're providing a package that should be relatively easy for [the legislature] to deal with," he said.

Legislators did not agree. On Saturday they struck back, revealing that they had quietly introduced their own bills just before midnight on Friday. These bills would restore $300 million to school aid cuts, reject the plan to allow SUNY and CUNY to set their own tuition, and do not include a property tax cap. Although the legislature rejected the plan to sell wine in grocery stores, their proposed bills do contain the new sales tax on clothing as well as limits on charitable deduction. They also include a new tax on online hotel reservations and defer some business tax credits.

Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver says the bills are not that different from the governor's proposals and should end any threat of a government shut down. But Governor Paterson virulently disagreed, demanding lawmakers return Sunday night for a special session to consider several bills. Ornery lawmakers gaveled in and gaveled out, saying they had not had enough time to study the measures.

Paterson says he's appalled by the legislature's actions. If lawmakers don't address some of his concerns, including a contingency plan to make up for a potential $1 billion shortfall in federal Medicaid funds, he threatens to veto all additions made to his budget plan.

"I will veto every single appropriation, all 518 of them, and the 6800 programs that they fund for $193 million, more commonly known as member items. I will veto all of this," Paterson proclaimed.

Speaker Silver and senate leader John Sampson said they will pass their budget bills later Monday. But Senator Sampson could not promise he has all 32 votes he'll need to pass the bills, especially if the 30 senate Republicans follow through with their threat not to vote for any tax increases.

Paterson predicts a long week and says the wrangling is far from over. He advised lawmakers to bring plenty of clothing as they returned to the capital, saying that they won't go home until the budget is finished.

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