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Paterson blames leaders for budget mess

Facing a $9.2 billion deficit and a budget that is 1 1/2 months late, Gov. David Paterson blamed legislative leaders Tuesday for the failure to come up with a financial plan.

When asked what the main sticking point was in negotiations, Paterson said, “The leaders.”

“It’s not their personalities and whether or not people get along in a professional environment is immaterial,” the governor said during an availability with reporters Tuesday. “The issue is that neither conference has come within $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion of the cuts that we’ve put on the table. They don’t have real and recurring cuts that could pass the budget.”

Paterson also denied a report in Monday’s New York Post that he was considering laying off 10,000 state workers to help the budget situation.

“First of all, I never said anything about the layoffs of 10,000 employees,” he said. “We are in court right now addressing the furlough situation.”

Paterson was referring to the temporary restraining order put into effect last week by a federal judge, which stopped his plan to furlough 100,000 state workers starting May 18.

The furloughs were passed May 10 by the state Legislature. Some members said they did not want to approve Paterson’s plan but had to or state government would shut down.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision, which was granted without the benefit of a hearing. We look forward to our day in court,” Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said in a statement. “It is imperative for the state to conserve revenues and maintain the orderly operation of government, and the governor remains committed to this objective. Gov. Paterson again calls for the leaders of New York’s public employee unions to share in the sacrifice that all New Yorkers are enduring in this extraordinary fiscal crisis.”

Legislative leaders are at an impasse over cutting school aid.

“Nobody wants to cut school aid,” Paterson said. “But the reality is we are where we are because we didn’t close the deficit last fall, forcing the governor to delay payments three times now because we don’t have the money to pay our debt.”

Paterson said he met with members of the state Assembly this week and suggested they were not committed to closing the budget deficit because cutting parks funding came up four times during the meeting.

“When you start hearing ancillary discussions ... you get the impression that people aren’t serious,” he said.

Paterson’s furlough plan would have authorized commissioners of state agencies to schedule a furlough day for each of their employees for the work week beginning May 18. On the furlough day, the employees would not have come to work and not be paid for that day.

Paterson said “essential” employees would have been exempt from the furloughs, including corrections officers, nurses and state troopers.

Management employees would also not have been affected because the governor said their scheduled salary increase was eliminated last year.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said voting for the furloughs was “an extremely difficult decision.”

“Choosing the lesser of two evils, I decided to vote to keep government running and voted for the furloughs,” she said, adding she believed the furloughs were illegal and supported the lawsuit that has kept them from being enacted.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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