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Comptroller says the late budget is on shaky ground

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New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says the state budget is based on shaky fiscal assumptions, and warns there could be another another mid year deficit if it isn't fixed. And a new poll from the Siena College Research Institute shows the more than three months late state budget is likely to have some political fallout. Karen DeWitt has more.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says the new state budget is based on a questionable financial foundation. A preliminary analysis by the Comptroller's office finds that $4.8 billion in revenue could be based on overly optimistic assumptions. The governor and legislature are counting on $440 million from collection of cigarettes taxes on Indian lands, $250 million in unspecified workforce reductions, $300 million from the yet-to-be-approved gambling expansion at Aqueduct race track, and $500 million from a crackdown on Medicaid fraud. The state is also relying on $1 billion from the federal government in health care funding. Governor Paterson believes that the federal Medicaid dollars are uncertain and has been urging the legislature to adopt a contingency plan. The state senate has not finished the budget and has yet to approve tax and revenue bills. Until then, the Comptroller says he cannot declare the budget complete and lawmakers will not be paid. "We have a wasted time budget," said DiNapoli. "It's still not done."

The Comptroller also found that overall the budget grew by $9.6 billion from last year, a 7.6% increase which is twice the rate of inflation. DiNapoli says lawmakers relied on $14.4 billion in federal stimulus monies to balance the budget, funds that will likely not be available next year. As a result, New York could face a $7 billion budget gap in the next fiscal year. "The issue of spending and controlling spending is still the greatest challenge facing us in New York," the Comptroller said.

Meanwhile, a Siena College poll finds that the budget mess could cause political problems for lawmakers. The survey shows more New Yorkers blame the legislature for the late state budget and the State's dismal finances than they do the governor. Siena's Steve Greenberg says when respondents were asked to give the legislature a grade, half flunked them and a quarter said they were barely passing. "Three quarters of the voters say the legislature deserves a D or an F for their work on the budget," said Greenberg. Governor Paterson's average is closer to a C minus, says Greenberg.

Paterson has gained the upper hand in the budget fight in recent weeks, forcing the legislature to implement most of his budget through weekly emergency spending measures. He also recently vetoed more than 6700 items approved by the legislature, cutting $525 million from the budget. While Paterson has won praise in newspaper editorials, the public has not warmed to the governor. The poll finds his job approval rating is unchanged since April--17%.

Paterson is not seeking reelection but most state legislators are, says Greenberg, and they should be worried. When asked whether they would re-elect their current senator or assembly member this fall, 52% of voters said they would prefer someone else.

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