WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. David Paterson said Wednesday that tax hikes will not be part of any proposal to plug a $1.5 billion state budget deficit.

The governor said he and legislative leaders have already agreed "there will be no tax increase" proposed during a special session later this month called to deal with the rapidly escalating deficit.

He said that even taxing "the wealthiest New Yorkers" would only make the situation worse because it would lead to lost jobs.

Paterson spoke during a town hall meeting, which was recorded for public television, and at a brief news conference afterward.

The governor had previously ruled out borrowing to close the gap, and much of the hour-long question-and-answer session dealt with the pain of cutting spending.

"It weighs on your conscience even when you think you're right," he said. "I'd like to make sure there's equity in the cuts."

Questioners chosen from the audience — mostly from the suburbs north of New York City — told the governor about the woes of small businesses trying to offer health care, charitable agencies losing their funding and schools losing teachers.

Paterson repeatedly warned that the budget problem is "a major crisis" that keeps getting worse as the economy stalls and will last for years.

He warned that the Election Day results — making him the first Democratic governor since 1935 with a majority in both the state Senate and Assembly — would not necessarily help rein in spending.

"What bothered me about the increase in spending is it's bipartisan," the governor said. "It almost didn't matter if the incumbents got re-elected or not."

The strength of the new majority in the Senate is in question anyway because four of the Democrats often break ranks and support Republicans. Paterson said he met with the four on Wednesday morning, but he would not discuss what happened.

The governor also said he considered Sen. Malcolm Smith, the current Senate minority leader, to be the "majority leader-elect."



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