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State lawmakers fail to act on budget cuts

State leaders failed to come to an agreement Tuesday on a second round of post−budget cuts to close a $1.5 billion deficit facing the state this fiscal year.

A meeting between Gov. David Paterson and the five legislative leaders in Albany ended without all sides agreeing to the governor’s call to slash the deficit.

Paterson, who proposed $2 billion in cuts to the current budget, including $572 million to health care and $585 million to schools, criticized the five legislative leaders for failing to come up with their own ideas on how to solve the state’s fiscal woes.

He especially took aim at Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R−Rockville Centre).

“You are not on record as having one cent that you want to see cut from the budget,” Paterson told Skelos. “You brought us nothing. You don’t have anything on paper to show. Mr. Leader, with all due respect, I’m waiting to hear what your solution is.”

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R−Schenectady) said neither Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver (D−Manhattan) nor Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans) were on record endorsing Paterson’s cuts.

Silver suggested Skelos was attempting to deflect blame for the state’s budget problems.

“Sen. Skelos is not interested in passing bills, he’s interested in passing the buck,” Silver said.

Smith said Skelos was “playing games” when he said he was open to bringing Paterson’s budget to a vote on the Senate floor because Republicans would not pass the measure.

“Games like this are no longer going to be accepted,” Smith said. “There is no guts on the majority side of my conference.”

Suggestions for trimming the deficit started coming through at the meeting, with Tedisco suggesting slashing member items, while Skelos said better enforcement of taxes on gasoline and cigarettes on native American reservations would help alleviate the deficit.

Paterson said he wondered why the suggestions were not brought to him before the Tuesday meeting.

“I feel like I’m having auditory hallucinations,” the governor quipped.

While Paterson said he heard some good ideas from the meeting, including Skelos’ suggestion to make spending increases proportional to inflation, he said others, like Skelos’ proposal to put video lottery terminals at Belmont Park, would not bring in immediate money.

Besides the health care and school cuts, Paterson also suggested $300 tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY schools, effective for the upcoming spring semester — the first such spikes since the 2003−04 budget.

The economic crisis was the catalyst for Paterson’s budget reductions. Wall Street bonuses account for roughly 20 percent of the state’s revenue.

State leaders agreed to spending decreases shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers over the summer, before Paterson called for a special session Tuesday to further reduce the state budget.

Aside from the $1.5 billion deficit this fiscal year, the state faces a $12.5 billion gap next year, according to the governor’s office.

Paterson said he will submit his budget to the Legislature on Dec. 16, a date much earlier than when it is usually proposed. He said he hoped the Legislature could agree to trim this fiscal year’s budget by the end of the year.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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