News Coverage on On-Time Budgets
Paterson plays budget chickenFredric Dicker
Monday, June 7, 2010
If state lawmakers think today's vote on slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care spending from the state budget is a tough one, wait until next Monday. It'll only get worse.
That's the message from Gov. Paterson's emboldened administration, which is vowing to escalate its new and unprecedented tactic of putting major spending cuts into the weekly "extenders" that have kept the state functioning without a completed budget since April 1.
Never before in the sorry 2½-decades-old history of late budgets has a New York governor made a move like Paterson's. He is basically daring the Legislature to shut down the whole state -- by rejecting the budget extender -- or accept mandatory spending cuts.
"Every week from now on, there's going to be something else for them to deal with, and it's only going to get harder," said a source close to the administration.
"This week will be the easiest one for them, so they better get a budget deal done very soon. We're not afraid; we have a big pair of balls."
The tougher choices down the road could include major cuts in state education spending -- the political third rail for many lawmakers; or what are euphemistically called "revenue enhancers," also known as higher or new taxes; or a cap on state spending, which such powerful labor groups as the teachers and health-care workers unions fight against tooth and nail.
Lame-duck Paterson is attempting to close a projected $9.2 billion budget deficit in the face of bitter resistance and indecision by the Legislature's Democratic leadership, which fears spending cuts or tax hikes would lead voters to boot them out of office in November.
Meanwhile, Paterson's decision putting health-care reductions first in the lineup of budget cuts is aimed, in part, at calling what the governor sees as a bluff of Senate Republicans, who publicly say they support such savings.
"Let's see if Dean Skelos can put his votes where his mouth has been," an administration insider said of the Senate GOP leader, who at public meetings with the governor on the budget has repeatedly called for cuts in the massive Medicaid program.
Senate Democrats have only a one-vote majority, so Skelos' Republican votes may be needed if some Democrats refuse to support Paterson's health-care cuts.