Paterson: Agreement reached to keep parks open

(AP) - New York Gov. David Paterson said Thursdaythat an agreement has been reached to have all 178 state parks openfor the Memorial Day weekend.

"The Legislature has made the tough choices to my satisfactionthat will enable us to open the parks," Paterson said. Hisadministration had listed 41 parks and 14 of the state's 35historic sites for closing, along with service cuts at others, tohelp close the state's budget gap.

Paterson said negotiations that ended early Thursday morningwould provide $11 million for full operations this year,effectively offset by money from the Environmental Protection Fund,which would be cut by about $74 million. The measure is alsoexpected to keep the historic sites open this year, as well asDepartment of Environmental Conservation campgrounds targeted forclosing.

"We've come to a deal to approximately cut about what Iproposed in the original budget," Paterson said on WOR radio 710's"The John Gambling Show." "The bad news is it has taken aboutfour days to find $11 million dollars to keep the parks open."

Lawmakers wanted smaller cuts in the fund dedicated toconservation programs like buying land and recycling. They balkedearlier in the week at Paterson's proposal linking those cuts torestored park funding. Meanwhile, they've been getting calls fromconstituents unhappy about park closings, especially with the warmweather and approaching holiday weekend.

The Senate received the draft late Thursday afternoon andplanned to review it and take it up Friday, majority DemocraticConference spokesman Austin Shafran said. "We have a tentativeagreement on a bill to keep the parks open for the rest of theyear."

According to administration officials, lawmakers still need tofind another $2 billion to $2.5 billion in spending cuts to closethe deficit and adopt a balanced budget of roughly $130 billion forthis year. Democratic and Republican legislative leaders agreedTuesday to have conference committees of rank-and-file legislatorstry to find more cuts based on broad parameters that staffs were toidentify by Thursday. The budget was due April 1. Paterson said he has proposed a balanced budget, which differsfrom Senate and Assembly proposals by about $100 million in healthcare and up to $800 million in education spending.

While budget talks continue, Shafran said no conferencecommittee meetings were scheduled for Thursday.

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