NY Senate Releases Budget Proposal

Albany, NY – Senate Democrats have approved their version of the state budget. It
includes deep spending cuts first proposed by Governor David
Paterson, but refrains from imposing taxes proposed by the governor,
including those on soda pop and cigarettes.

The Senate Democrats' proposal accepts many of the deep spending cuts
proposed by Governor Paterson, including cut backs to Paterson's own
state agencies, as well as a $1.4 billion dollar reduction in school
aid and cuts to college students seeking tuition aid.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson says Senators have little
choice, facing an over $9 billion dollar budget deficit.

"The bottom line is New York is in trouble," said Sampson.

Senate Finance Committee Vice Chair Liz Krueger says education
programs suffered the most, because education aid makes up a large
chunk of the budget.

"Because that's where the money is," said Krueger.

Senate Democrats would keep open 57 parks and historic sites that
Paterson had slated for closure, and would restore STAR property tax
rebate checks to low income seniors, though not to middle class
property tax payers.

Senators have also rejected Paterson's call to raise taxes on sugared
soft drinks, cigarettes, and to sell wine in grocery stores, says
Sampson. They would instead rely on $2 billion dollars in one-shot
revenue raisers. A large chunk, around $700 million, would come from
refinancing the state's tobacco bonds, from the 2003 tobacco company
settlement with the states. They would also raid some funds, and have
put higher estimates on the revenue that could be generated from some
existing programs, like a tax amnesty program and cracking down on
Medicaid fraud.

Overall, the Senate budget increases spending from the current year
by $3 billion dollars, to a total of $136 billion, though Senator
Sampson says that's below the rate of inflation.

The negative reaction came swiftly. The State School Boards
Association and the Council of School Superintendents predicted that
up to 14, 800 teachers would be laid off, if the school aid cuts were
to be accepted.

New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi called the
cuts "completely unacceptable".

The School boards say they'd like some freedom from what they say are
costly state mandates instead, so that administrators can reduce
costs on their own.

Perhaps in preparation for expected public anger over their budget
proposals, the Senate took the unusual step of cordoning off the
hallway surrounding Senate Leader John Sampson's offices, and the
conference room where the Democrats meet. Spokesman Austin Shafran
says lobbyists and members of the public will still be allowed to
come into the Senate hallway, as long as they have a specific

"It's for everybody's benefit," Shafran said.

On the Senate floor, Republican Senators rejected the Democrats'
plan, saying it doesn't add up, and complaining that they were left
out of the decision making process. Senator John DeFrancisco is the
ranking GOP member on the Finance Committee.

"I am going to recommend to my conference that we vote no on this,"
DeFrancisco said.

The final vote was 32 Democratic Senators in favor of the budget
resolution. All 29 GOP Senators present voted no.

Senate Democrats did not include in their resolution a plan proposed
by Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch to borrow up to $6 billion
dollars over the next three years, but say they have not ruled out
adopting it in some version in the future.

The state Assembly has not yet put out their budget resolution, but
is expected to do so later in the week. A spokesman says
Assemblymembers are still holding meetings and talking about how to
structure the proposal. The next step is to then hold conference
committees and try to negotiate a final spending plan with the
governor by the April 1 deadline.

Senator Sampson did not answer questions about whether the budget
would be finished by then.