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February 28, 2010

As lame duck, Gov. Paterson has little power in crucial budget talks

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ALBANY — For New Yorkers who simply shook their heads last week at Albany's latest scandal, the political crisis will likely soon hit home like never before.

Gov. David Paterson's decision to end his campaign amid scandal makes him a lame duck during crucial state budget negotiations. Add a worsening fiscal crisis, the most heated election year in decades, and the lack of a voting majority in the Senate after a Democrat was expelled, and you have what some call the makings of a disaster, for which New Yorkers will pick up the tab.

Negotiations are supposed to begin in earnest this week among leaders for the state budget due in four weeks, with a governor whose immediate future — and influence — is also questionable. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's fast-paced investigation, requested by Paterson, will inevitably roil the waters as it digs into whether Paterson and his state police security detail illegally contacted a victim of domestic violence on behalf of a top governor's aide.

"Every day in Albany just gets weirder and weirder," Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll said Sunday. "I have heard for 20 years that, 'This could be the year we don't have a budget in New York.' I never believed it was possible. ... I do believe that given the desperate political events, this could be the year."

For New Yorkers, there is much at stake: Paterson's $135 billion budget proposes a $1 billion cut in school aid that would likely drive up some of the nation's highest property taxes; deep cuts in aid to New York City; closure of dozens of state parks and a few prisons, and increases for college tuition, among other actions.

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