The Legislature on Thursday planned to break for the July 4 holiday weekend indefinitely, leaving a state budget that's three months overdue and Gov. David Paterson furiously vetoing the parts of the budget that were passed.
The Democrat-led Senate left Albany for at least several days and perhaps a week or more, declining to act on the critical revenue bill to close the state budget. Democrats also made their good-bye speeches and held a news conference to list their accomplishments of the 2010 session.
The Assembly's Democratic majority planned to pass the revenue bill, the budget's final piece in their chamber, on Thursday then leave with an unspecified return, pending a call by the speaker.
"In the face of fiscal uncertainty, New Yorkers need action," admonished state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat. "Stay in Albany and get the job done."
Senate Democratic leader John Sampson, however, said he believes the 2010-11 budget is done, even though the comptroller requires the revenue bill passed by both chambers for a budget to be complete. Sampson hopes instead to restart negotiations with Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Paterson over his proposals.
Paterson insists on agreement on his proposals, including a contingency plan should $1 billion in uncertain Medicaid funds not come from Washington, before he will discuss any measures with lawmakers including Paterson's vetoes.
"We have done our job. We have done the budget," Sampson told reporters. "There is one outstanding issue, there is a revenue piece."
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said he was "stunned."
"Democrats in the majority here are pretending that it's over, the session, and we're going home and someday we're going to come back and complete the budget that should have been completed on April 1," Skelos said from the Senate floor. "This the most amazing moment I think I have ever had sitting here in the Senate chamber ... this session is not over."
"The budget is not done," said Elizabeth Lynam of the indepedent Citizens Budget Commission. She said the Legislature's proposal isn't balanced, and neither would it be even after Paterson's vetoes.
Meanwhile, Paterson rifled through a 2-foot high stack of the Legislature's budget bills approved by the Senate and Assembly this week. He's voiding all 6,900 of them at a rate of one every 3 seconds.
"I'm not talking to them," Paterson said of lawmakers during a break in vetoing spending he said the state can't afford. "They sent me a message. They sent that budget that was out of balance."
Paterson has until the end of July 9 to complete his vetoes, but he expects to finish sooner. In his office, Counsel Peter Kiernan and several staffers reviewed and passed each veto message to Paterson. Kiernan handed Paterson a veto message for each bill, explained which it was, then the legally blind governor put his nose to the paper and signed his initials.
He said many of the programs are laudable and important, but unaffordable. His vetoes Thursday included grants to the elementary school his children attended, a service group whose board of directors includes his wife, and a group to which his mother had been a member.
Sampson made a surprise announcement Wednesday night. He withheld the final budget bill to seek negotiations with Silver and Paterson over the need for a Medicaid contingency fund that could trigger a release of some of the spending Paterson is vetoing. The spending includes $190 million in discretionary or "pork-barrel" grants legislators.
Sampson's decision to withhold the final budget billprovides substantial leverage over the Assembly because until a budget is passed, lawmakers' pay will continue to be withheld. That back pay is now about $20,000 for each legislator since the April 1 budget deadline.
The next stop for the vetoes will be the Assembly, which will have to decide whether to try to override any or all of them. But that seems unlikely because the Republicans in the Senate's minority who voted in a bloc against every budget bill could deny the Senate's Democratic majority the two-thirds vote they need.
Yet in a news conference Sampson announced he had enough votes to override at least some of the governor's vetoes, including his veto over the Legislature's bill to restore $600 million in school aid with some property tax relief. School aid and tax relief are also key issues for the Republicans. He wouldn't divulge how he attracted any Republicans.
After the vetoes are done, Paterson said his top priority remains creation of a contingency fund in the event $1 billion in threatened Medicaid funding known as FMAP, never comes from Washington. That would blow a hole in the state's budget in coming weeks or months. He also wants approval for his plan to empower the public universities to grow unfettered by Albany politics and be able to approve their own tuition increases, as much as 8 percent a year.
"If the governor, in fact, wants to sit down and talk about it, we're prepared to talk about it," Silver said Thursday.
The legislative session had been scheduled to end June 21.