Paterson Proposes $134b Budget with Cuts, New Taxes

Albany, NY –
Saying that this is "not a budget of choice, but of necessity", Paterson proposes closing a $7.4 billion dollar gap by cutting school aid, health care and state agencies by one billion dollars each.

"Our revenues have crumbled, and our budget has crashed," said Paterson. "We can no longer afford this spending addiction that we have had for so long."

Paterson also revives his proposal for a one cent charge on sugared soft drinks. The governor proposed the so-called "fat tax" last year, but later dropped the plan in the face of opposition from the beverage industry and members of the legislature. Paterson would also like to raise the cigarette tax by another dollar, and attempt to collect taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian lands. Under the governor's plan, wine would be sold in grocery stores, ultimate fighting, banned in New York, would become legal, and hours for state sponsored gambling like Quickdraw and Video Lottery Terminals would be expanded, all as a means of gaining more revenue.

The proposal calls for raiding an environmental fund, and a moratorium on state purchases of open space land. The budget would also end training, for now, of any new state police officers, and the closing of some highway rest stops.

Paterson says he expects "special interests" to protest, but says he hopes that the legislature will not heed their demands.

The governor's budget was received coolly by lawmakers, who, unlike in past years, were not given an advance briefing before the public presentation.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he is "very concerned" about a proposal to reduce aid to college students by cutting the Tuition Assistance Program by $143 million dollars.

Senate Leader John Sampson was more circumspect.

"Pretty much everything is on the table, with respect to the governor's budget," Sampson said.

Education interests are already mobilizing against the proposed school cuts. Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, says the reductions violate a court order that said the state had to spend billions of dollars more on schools to make education more equitable.

"This is a colossal reversal of the state's commitment to provide every child with the opportunity to learn," Easton said.

The governor's proposed budget has also angered the state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman. Lippman, who was appointed to his job by Paterson, says the governor "misunderstands" the nature of the judiciary. He says it cannot simply absorb a proposed $132 million dollar reduction simply by cutting programs, since it is charged with the constitutional role of administering the state's legal system. Lippman predicts at least 2000 lay offs of court personnel if the cuts stand.

Betsy Lynam, with the watch dog group the Citizens Budget Commission says, complaints aside, the governor is right to focus on spending cuts on health care and education.

"They are areas that have grown rapidly in recent years," said Lynam. "It's right to take them down at this point."

The legislature will begin hearings on the governor's plan later this month, with the aim of agreeing on one budget plan by April.