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State Lawmakers Leave Albany for the Week, Still No Budget
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, NY – The state legislature left for the week without heeding Governor
Paterson's request to vote on his newly revised budget bills.
Meanwhile, Paterson upped the stakes in his battle with lawmakers
over a proposal to furlough of state workers.
Governor Paterson demanded that the legislature consider his latest
budget plan before leaving town for the week. But by the time
lawmakers were ready to adjourn, at around 1 pm Wednesday, the
governor had still not sent the legislation, said Assembly Speaker
Sheldon Silver, who said the bills had arrived just as Assembly
Democrats were to begin their final closed door conference of the
"None of our members have seen the bills," said Silver.
Paterson had delivered a bill that would authorize one day a week
furloughs for state workers, until the budget, now nearly one month
late, is completed. Speaker Silver says the Assembly would not
approve the measure, because the furloughs would violate the unions'
contracts with the state, signed and agreed upon three years ago.
"The legislature doesn't provide the aura of legality to that which
is illegal," said Silver.
The speaker says the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger,
tried to furlough state workers in violation of union contracts. A
judge ordered the money be paid back, with interest.
"I don't think we want to get into that position here," Silver said.
Paterson and his aides maintain that the furloughs are legal.
The legislation authorizing the furloughs was delivered as a stand
alone bill, but Governor Paterson says the next spending extender,
which would need to be approved by May 10th, will include the
furloughs. Lawmakers would be forced to choose between approving the
furloughs or shutting down government. The governor says it's not his
intent to force a showdown, but he says he's increasingly frustrated
with the lack of action on the budget crisis.
"Nobody seems to want to do anything except point the finger in a
different direction," Paterson said. "And I'm going to stop it".
Speaker Silver says he'll cross the bridge of whether to choose
furloughs for state workers or a government shut down, when he comes
to it. But the Assembly's second in command, Majority Leader Ron
Canestrari says, reluctantly, if given that choice, he'd be forced to
vote for the extenders, even with the furlough provisions.
"I have to," said Canestrari. "We cannot close down state government."
Canestrari represents portions of Albany and surrounding areas, and
has a large proportion of state workers as constituents.
Union leaders have been seething over the proposed furloughs, calling
them a violation of their contracts and preparing to go to court.
CSEA President Danny Donohue issued a one word response to Paterson's
proposal on Tuesday. "Nuts" was his answer. Some have taken that as a
reference to the response of General Anthony McAuliffe to the Germans
during World War II, who were demanding surrender before what became
known as the Battle of the Bulge. Governor Paterson says the
comparison is inappropriate.
"I really worry about a mind that feels comfortable making that
comparison," Paterson said. "
A spokesman for the CSEA, said in an e-mail message, that Donohue's
original comment stands.
Tom Comanzo, the Vice President of the Public Employees Federation,
the other major state worker union, says for over a year, unions have
been offering ideas to the governor, including curtailing expensive
private contractors, but he says the governor has not listened.
"What's unfortunate is that the governor has chosen to negotiate in
the press instead of talking with us directly," said Comanzo.
And Comanzo says state employees have made a number of concessions
already, as the work force has been steadily squeezed through
attrition and other cost cutting measures undertaken over the last
couple of years.
The Senate also adjourned without acting on the governor's furlough
and budget proposals, but offered no official comment. Senate
Democrats are struggling with other troubles, including new charges
by State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo against Senate Majority Leader
Pedro Espada. There's also a furor over remarks made by Senator Kevin
Parker, an African American, who is accusing some white Senate
Republicans of racism, a charge they deny.