NY Legislature avoids government shutdown
(AP) - New York's Legislature averted anunprecedented shutdown of state government Monday night, the latestscare in a 2-year-old fiscal crisis and with a state budget nowmore than 10 weeks overdue.
A shutdown would have idled many of the state's 200,000 workersand disrupted or suspended nonessential services including runninglottery games, issuing driver's licenses and paying unemploymentand welfare benefits as well as closing parks and campgrounds.
The Senate, with some drama, voted 34-27 to approve the billthat easily passed in the Assembly.
In the end, a Capitol that has been involved in brinksmanshipsince before the 2010-11 state budget was due April 1 pulled back.The Senate's Democratic majority, razor-thin and divergent, reinedin one member - Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx - and appeasedanother - Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. Diaz won a $188 millionrestoration of funding Monday, most of it federal and about $18million of which will go to Diaz's concerns to keep senior centersopen in poor neighborhoods in New York City.
The Senate's Republican minority gained a voice in budget talksand agreed to end its bloc voting against emergency spending billsas some of its members representing large segments of state workerstook election year heat from Democratic challengers.
Democratic Gov. David Paterson set it all in motion by using a30-year-old law that allowed him to force the Legislature to accepthis full-year budget cuts - $327 million worth for mental healthand social services - that he tied to weekly emergency spendingappropriations. The Legislature's only recourse was to shuttergovernment.
"I think that we had come to a realization that we cannot talkabout government shutting down," said Senate Democratic leaderJohns Sampson of Brooklyn. "I think Albany realized that we'veheard the voice of the people and the people have expressed theirconcerns about our inability to put them in a position ofcertainty. I think people want certainty from their electedofficials."
"We are affecting services that we never, ever dreamed ofcutting, but we understand times are tough," he said.
The Legislature appeared to avoid a shutdown early Monday whenRepublicans in the Senate minority saw the final bill that includedsome of their proposals. The Assembly, with a super majority ofDemocrats, passed the bills easily.
Diaz surprised many Democrats by voting against the bill despitewinning health care funding for his district. He set up anotherpotential showdown over an emergency bill next week if there isstill no agreement on a state budget.
"I'm going to make a lot of people angry because of my vote,"Diaz said from the floor. "I'm not voting for cuts today and notnext week ... I am a Democrat and I will not cut more benefits forpeople," he said. "I'm willing to take the consequences."
Republican Sens. Hugh Farley of Schenectady County, Roy McDonaldof Saratoga County and Charles Fuschillo Jr. of Long Island votedfor the bills.
"Don't count on my vote for any more extenders," Farley saidin an angry explanation of his vote on the Senate floor. "It'stime to pass the budget ... it is dysfunction on steroids."
McDonald blamed the Democratic majority and brinksmanship forhaving to vote for an emergency bill in June, because the budgetwasn't done on April 1.
"We have lost the respect of real people in this state," hesaid.
Fuschillo didn't comment.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger, a BrooklynDemocrat, accused the Republican conference of trying to shut downgovernment to hurt the Democratic majority for political gain. Hecalled for "one brave soul" from the Republicans to put "serviceover politics."