Albany, New York – When the state legislature approved 40% of the state budget Monday night in the form of an emergency extender, supporters said it was a desperate measure for desperate times. But critics say it's the wrong way to do a budget, even in the midst of a crisis.
Democrats in the Assembly and Senate went along with Governor Paterson's plan to include all health care spending for the total budget year in an emergency extender bill approved Monday evening.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver admits that the approach is novel, but with the budget over two months late and a fiscal crisis draining away the state's cash, he says, essentially, desperate measures are needed.
"This is a new millennium," Silver said. "A new age, and a new way to do things."
Republicans, who are in the minority in each house, complain about what they say is an irresponsible "piecemeal" approach to budget making. Senator John DeFrancisco, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he was stunned by the Democrats' actions.
"It is absolutely amazing, " said DeFrancisco, who says GOP lawmakers were completely left out.
Assembly GOP Leader Brian Kolb, calls the process "half-baked", and points out the plan does not include any revenues to pay for the over $55 billion dollars in heath care spending that was approved.
"This is just about stall tactics," said Kolb, who says Democrats can't agree on whether to tax or borrow to pay for all of the spending.
"They're trying to figure out which poison they're going to deliver at the last minute," said Kolb.
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and a long time Albany observer, says Paterson's move is certainly unusual.
"It's a crazy way to do a state budget," said Horner. "But a crazier way is not to do the budget at all."
Horner says Paterson has created a powerful new weapon for governors to break stalemates with the legislature in the future.
"This is an historic precedent that is being set," said Horner.
But Paterson says he does not feel empowered by his actions, but rather, he says he's "disappointed" that he had to take them at all.
"I don't think that a governor should have to threaten the legislature with shutting down the government to get the legislature to do the job that they were sent here to do by the people", said Paterson.
So far Democrats have not needed Republicans to agree to their tactics. They hold a large majority in Assembly, and in the Senate, all 32 Democrats in the slim majority voted for the health care budget. But at least two Democrats have hinted they might not vote for the extenders again. Senate Republican Leader Skelos says his 30 Republican members are unlikely to give the Democrats any yes votes, even if it means shutting down the government.
"If it means stopping things for a couple days, then we're prepared to do it," said Skelos. "We're not happy about it, but we're prepared to do it."
Paterson has threatened to include more unpalatable items in the next round of extenders, if there's no budget agreement including school aid cuts that the Assembly objects to, new taxes, and possibly even his soda tax, unpopular with lawmakers. That might make it even trickier for the governor and legislature to enact the next segment of the budget next week.