Albany, NY – Governor David Paterson convened the first public leaders meeting on the budget in nearly three months. Little was accomplished, and the annoyed governor was left threatening that he'd prevent lawmakers form attending the political conventions scheduled for the next two weeks.
The first open leaders meeting since early March lasted over an hour. It focused more disagreements over the process of getting a budget done, than how to resolve the key policy differences that have stymied the governor, Senate and Assembly for the past six weeks.
After allowing the Majority and Minority Leaders to reiterate long held positions on where they stand on the spending plan, the governor tried to get to the point. He told them none of their budget plans add up.
"You are cajoling and fooling the public," said Paterson. " A lot of the cuts don't pass muster, they're not real."
Paterson then asked the Democratic Leaders, Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to finally begin the long delayed public conference committees on the budget, something minority party Republicans point out are required under the budget reform law of 2007. Senator Sampson agreed, saying it would force the GOP to flesh out their ideas, too.
"Everybody can talk a good game, but the time is to prove a good game," Sampson said. "Let's sit at a table, let's talk about cuts."
Speaker Silver agreed only conditionally, saying he wants a "financial plan" in place first.
That led Paterson, who has presented what he says is a balanced budget with deep cuts, new taxes, and no new borrowing to ask the leaders, why not just hold an up or down vote on his plan.
"And we'll be out of here today, you don't even need to have any conference committees," said Paterson.
There was a pause, then Senator Sampson responded.
"We want conference committees, governor," Sampson said, to laughter and guffaws from the audience.
"Oh, Scotty, beam me up," the governor exclaimed.
Lawmakers are leaving for the week, session was cancelled for Wednesday due to the Jewish holiday Shavous. But the increasingly frustrated Paterson threatened to force the legislature to remain in special session during the following two weeks, even though the Democratic and Republican Party conventions are scheduled then. The governor says it's "irresponsible" to be worrying about politics when the budget is unfinished.
"You conventioneers- Democrats and Republicans- might want to think about spending your time in Albany," Paterson admonished. "that's our obligation to the people of the state of New York."
Afterward Paterson hedged a bit on the threat, saying he would consult with the leaders of both political parties before making a final decision. Paterson is not seeking election, and so does not need to attend the conventions. Some lawmakers, though, are seeking a spot on the statewide ballot, and are potentially facing a dilemma.