State legislative leaders sought to put the focus back on the budget Tuesday, and away from the stories about gubernatorial sex that have gripped Albany for the past 10 days.
At a public leaders’ meeting, Gov. David Paterson proposed $800 million in spending reductions from former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s budget proposal to help deal with a growing budget crisis amid a deteriorating economy.
Paterson’s Budget Division said later that he is proposing, above and beyond cuts previously announced by Spitzer, “an across-the-board 2 percent reduction in operating spending for all state agencies.” He also proposed a 2 percent reduction for local assistance spending, although that excluded education and entitlement programs in the areas of health, public assistance and others.
The cut would include programs such as Aid and Incentives to Municipalities, said Budget Division spokesman Jeffrey Gordon. The AIM program has boosted funding for upstate cities like Schenectady in recent years.
While Spitzer’s previous cuts from his executive budget excluded personnel, Paterson’s cuts make no such exclusion. However, Gordon said the administration is not anticipating layoffs. Rather, he said, managers are expected to reduce staff through attrition and take other cost-saving measures.
Civil Service Employees Association spokesman Steve Madarasz expressed concern that CSEA members could be affected by the budget cuts, although it has not opposed them at this point.
“We want to mitigate the pain both to our members and the general public,” he said. Asked about the Assembly majority proposal for a temporary income tax increase from 6.85 percent to 7.7 percent on those making $1 million or more per year, Madarasz said CSEA has generally taken the position that increasing taxes “on the extremely wealthy is fairer than across-the-board cuts on everyone.”
Spitzer, along with Republicans, had opposed the Assembly’s tax-the-rich proposal, but Paterson has not ruled it in or out. Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, said at the leaders’ meeting that he agreed with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, about the need to reject tax increases. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, defended his conference’s proposal, noting it was similar to a temporary tax increase enacted earlier this decade.
“We’re overtaxed; we’re overburdened,” Bruno said at a general conference committee held later Tuesday.
While divided on taxes, all the legislative leaders, including Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, supported Paterson’s $800 million spending cut at the conference committee.
The leaders also declined to get into discussions about Paterson’s sex life. The governor and his wife Michelle held a news conference earlier Tuesday in which they admitted past extramarital affairs. Paterson said he had had affairs with “a number” of women, including a state employee, but has now reconciled with his wife.
“That’s a private matter,” was all Tedisco would say about it. That was in marked contrast to Tedisco’s position last week regarding Spitzer, when he called for the then-governor’s resignation because of his involvement with prostitutes, and even threatened impeachment. Spitzer resigned effective Monday.
Silver and Bruno both said Paterson’s revelations are a private matter and should not distract from state business.
The Rev. Duane Motley, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said Paterson’s revelations were “shocking and disappointing,” and that New Yorkers need leaders “of good moral character.” Motley said it is good that the Patersons have salvaged their marriage, but if there are any further similar revelations about the governor, that would damage him politically.
Gordon, the Budget Division spokesman, said staff from that agency were meeting Tuesday evening with staff from both houses of the Legislature on budget issues. They were trying to define the differences among the three proposed budgets, to help leaders ultimately reconcile them.
Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, was appointed by Bruno as joint chairman of the general government/local assistance conference committee. Among its tasks will be coming up with AIM funding levels.
The conference subcommittees will start meeting next week. The enacted budget is due by April 1.