Veto override unlikely as Democrats revise budget
By Nick Reisman
ALBANY - An override of Gov. David Paterson's vetoes of 6,900 spending items appeared unlikely Tuesday as Republican lawmakers in the Senate blasted a budget they said drives up spending and does nothing to control property taxes.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate and Assembly said they plan to pass revenue bills on Thursday that would complete the state budget, now three months overdue.
The bills were changed in order to strengthen support among some rank-and-file lawmakers who had raised concerns Monday about aspects of the bills.
The changes included striking a provision that would have allowed same-sex couples married outside of the state to file an income-tax return as a married couple and eliminated a proposal that would have exempted those with homes valued above $2 million from participating in the STAR rebate program. Another change gave New York City the option of adopting a state plan that would halve deductions from charitable contributions made by those with incomes above $10 million.
Despite the changes, Republicans were unlikely to vote for the revised bills.
"Any tweaks they're making right now is just a drop in the ocean when they didn't provide any property-tax relief at all," said Mark Hansen, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans.
Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, said Democrats had failed to produce a solid figure of how much would be spent in the 2010-11 fiscal year, which started April 1.
"I think it would take a cross between a wizard and an alchemist to determine where we stand now with the budget," he said.
Senate Democratic officials have estimated the final budget number at about $136 billion.
The governor followed through on his promise to veto new spending - including $419 million in restored education aid - on Monday after lawmakers approved a series of spending bills.
Paterson told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he was ending negotiations with legislative leaders over the vetoes and said, "as far as I am concerned, this budget process is over."
Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said he was focused on passing the revenue bills before overriding Paterson's vetoes. The Assembly and Senate would have to mount a two-thirds vote in each house in order to pass an override. "Once we pass a revenue bill, we will take it up in conference and make a determination as to whether we'll move an override," he said.
Democrats hold a slim 32-30 seat majority in the Senate, so Democrats would have to lure 10 Republicans in order to successfully override the governor. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said an override would have to wait.
"That is something we can consider, but my goal is to work it out with the speaker and the governor," he said after meeting privately with the governor.
Paterson is also vetoing $193 million in member items, commonly known as pork.
The governor also plans to strike about $95 million in spending added by the Legislature on Monday.
The member items to be vetoed include $10,000 for the University of Rochester Medical Center, $250,000 for Elmira College, $20,000 for the Yonkers Public School District and $7,500 for the Broome County Council of Churches.
"We understand very clearly how bad the situation really is and we've tried to share with our constituents that they may not get member items," said Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, Westchester County, adding that many of her funding projects include anti-gang programs.
"We're not talking about frivolous stuff. All of these are very critical to the ongoing survival of the communities."
Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, said the vetoes have a greater effect on districts with Democratic senators because they get more of the member items.
"If we have to cut back, we cut back," Winner said.
The governor had been pushing the Legislature to approve his proposals, which included a 4 percent cap on property taxes and a plan that would allow grocery stores to sell wine.
Instead, lawmakers passed part of a joint budget agreed to over the weekend.
Paterson had promised to veto new spending, the education aid and the member items if lawmakers failed to pass a contingency plan in case the state loses up to $1 billion in Medicaid aid from the federal government.
Paterson has argued that the Legislature's budget doesn't close what is left of a $9.2 billion deficit, the main stumbling block in passing a budget.
Sampson, the Senate Democratic leader, said that the focus remains on property-tax cuts and restoring the school aid.
"It's not about member items," Sampson said. "What's more important is making sure that we get back that money for education and also for property tax (cap)."
The Senate is also refusing to draft legislation submitted by Paterson's office and the Senate Judiciary Committee set aside several of the governor's nominations for judgeships.
"It's all about negotiations," Sampson said. "You have to use whatever tools you have to negotiate."
The Senate Judiciary Committee was due to take up the nominations of Michelle Ila Schauer as judge of the Westchester County Family Court; Vincent J. Rizzo as judge of the Monroe County Court; and Glen T. Bruening as judge of the Court of Claims.