Governor warns that budget could be late

Gov. David Paterson warned Monday that New York’s budget is likely to miss the April 1 deadline, in

Gov. David Paterson warned Monday that New York’s budget is likely to miss the April 1 deadline, in part because the Legislature isn’t scheduled to be in Albany the week before the due date.

The Legislature is scheduled to observe the Passover and Easter holidays March 26-April 6.

Paterson said there is just too much to do and too little negotiation to get it done with just two weeks left before the 2010-11 fiscal year begins. He said the budget — expected to be about $130 billion with a $9.2 billion deficit to address — may be settled by the end of April.

But the Democratic governor said he can’t tell how likely the Assembly and Senate are to change his proposed budget because he has yet to receive basic budget proposals from them.

The leaders could try to negotiate a budget proposal without Paterson, but they would have to first reject his proposal. Paterson submitted a balanced budget proposal in January that included some spending cuts.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is an orthodox Jew and observes the holidays away from Albany, didn’t immediately comment.

Meeting the deadline isn’t a top priority of the Senate, which values a good budget more than an on-time one, said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Democratic majority.

“Right now, our priorities remain the same: a responsible and bipartisan budget that New Yorkers can afford,” Shafran said. “We’ve had past years in which budgets have been passed on time and have done nothing to mitigate the borrow-tax-spend and pass-the-buck politics that Albany has played too long.”

Speaking to reporters at a Westchester event, Paterson said that if he gets budget proposals from the Legislature soon, “It could be done within the month.”

“Of this year?” quipped Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who has watched Albany craft more than 20 budgets — most of them weeks or months late, until recent years.

Late budgets often cost more than on-time ones because municipal governments, schools and nonprofit social service agencies often have to borrow or cut programs and jobs until full state funding arrives.

Late budgets can also hurt the state’s credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow money. The state once had a string of more than 20 straight late budgets dating to the 1980s.

“It exacerbates the perception that Albany is governed by people who don’t have the slightest sense of the consequences of their failure to act,” said Republican candidate for governor Rick Lazio. “Every week that goes by is another week where investors lose patience with New York, where we lose our ability to retain and attract jobs and where we head closer to fiscal calamity.”

“There could be high-level discussions that we don’t know about,” Horner said. “But it’s a concern because it’s taxpayers’ dollars being negotiated and the public should know how the money is being spent.”

“My feeling is, in terms of spending, my colleagues have gotten it,” Paterson said. “They realize we can’t spend now, which is a huge step.

“But now the problem is, how do you balance a budget when you owe $9.2 billion and you don’t want to tax — because we don’t — and you don’t want to borrow because that will injure our credit rating,” Paterson said. “It’s going to have to be all cuts, and I think they are having a hard time grappling with it.”

The Legislature is also reviewing Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch’s proposal from last week. It calls for a restructuring of how budgets are done to align spending with revenues and do it by borrowing up to $6 billion over the next three years. Ravitch also proposed moving the start of the fiscal year to July 1, when most other states start, and doing an interim three-month budget.

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