Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who is in the midst of a bitter budget war with his fellow Republican,Governor George Pataki, is about to get help from a powerful ally: Local 1199, the hospital workers’ union. The union, which runs one of the most powerful political operations in the state, is preparing to spend $4 million on a new TV and radio campaign boosting Mr. Bruno and attacking the Governor, union officials have told The Observer .
Mr. Pataki, meanwhile, is turning to an outside ally of his own-Grover Norquist, the nationally known anti-tax activist, who is planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailings and radio ads boosting the Governor and attacking Mr. Pataki’s adversaries. Mr. Norquist is a fan of the Governor because Mr. Pataki, in a move that has antagonized Mr. Bruno and many other Republicans in New York State, has taken a hard line against raising taxes to close the state’s massive budget gap.
In the view of Mr. Norquist, a close adviser to the White House on fiscal policy, Mr. Pataki is a key to a larger national agenda: a broad effort by fiscal conservatives to downsize state governments across the country. “To the extent that Governor Pataki can stake out an anti-tax position and hold to it as much as possible, that will help in every other state,” Mr. Norquist said.
The involvement of Local 1199 on one side, and Mr. Norquist on the other, is exacerbating the conflict between Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bruno. Outside parties are now choosing sides, and devoting huge amounts of money and time to their allies in the fight-intensifying what is already one of the worst intra-party struggles the state G.O.P. has seen in nearly a decade.
Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bruno are at war because Mr. Pataki-unlike some Governors across the country facing budget deficits-has ruled out most tax hikes as a way of closing the state’s $11.5 billion budget gap. Mr. Bruno, meanwhile, along with the Democratic-led Assembly, believes that tax increases are preferable to the deep cuts to education, health care and other areas that he believes would be politically detrimental to his members-and, by extension, his slim majority in the Senate.
Negotiations between both sides are continuing, but as of late in the day on April 29, there seemed to be little hope of a rapprochement. Legislative leaders were holding fast to their plan to pass their own budget containing about $2 billion more in spending than the Governor wanted. Mr. Pataki, in turn, blasted them as “irresponsible,” and vowed to fight back. “I will do everything in my ability to prevent this plan from becoming law, including exercising my veto powers,” Mr. Pataki told reporters.
If both sides stick to their positions, the Senate and the Assembly will, in the days ahead, pass a budget that will be vetoed by the Governor, leading to a new round of fighting between Mr. Bruno and Mr. Pataki as the Legislature tries to round up the two-thirds vote in both houses necessary to override the veto.
As that fight intensifies, outside groups are planning to redouble their efforts to influence the outcome. Take, for instance, Local 1199’s new ad campaign. The union has run ads attacking the Governor before, but the new ads specifically support Mr. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in their opposition to the Governor’s budget proposal.
One of the ads being prepared by Local 1199 will start running on April 30, in the expectation that the Legislature will, in the days ahead, pass its own budget in anticipation of a veto from Mr. Pataki. The ad-an advance copy of which was obtained by The Observer -praises Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver and assails Mr. Pataki by name.
“It nearly happened,” an announcer intones as ominous music plays over grainy footage of schoolchildren and hospital workers. “Governor Pataki’s proposed budget cuts put our health care and our schools at risk. Fortunately, legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Joseph Bruno made the better choice: The Legislature has come together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass a historic budget that protects health care and provides for our children’s education. They put our families first.”
One intention of the advertisement, union officials say, is to embolden Republican State Senators who are nervous about taking on Mr. Pataki, their party’s leader.
“These are terrible times, and we recognize that the decision they have made doesn’t come without political repercussions,” said Jennifer Cunningham, the legislative director of Local 1199. “We want them to realize that there’s tremendous support across the state for the courageous action they’re taking.”
The union has also prepared a number of other ads to cover a variety of different scenarios as the negotiations unfold. For instance, another ad, called “Threatened,” would also begin to run if and when the Legislature passes its own budget and a gubernatorial veto looks likely.
“Unfortunately, Governor George Pataki is threatening to veto the budget, putting our health care and schools at risk,” an announcer intones over images of kids packed into overcrowded classrooms, a woman in front of a closed hospital, and a forlorn-looking family standing next to a house bearing a “For Sale” sign.
Friends No More
The new ads are the latest episode in the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Mr. Pataki and the union’s president, Dennis Rivera, who was enjoying the fruits of a strong alliance with the Governor only six months ago. Mr. Rivera infuriated many New York Democrats last fall by endorsing the two-term Republican incumbent’s re-election campaign-a decision that was seen as key to Mr. Pataki’s efforts to win over liberal and minority voters in New York City. Shortly after Mr. Rivera announced his support for Mr. Pataki, the Governor granted the union’s rank-and-file hospital workers a generous raise.
Since Mr. Pataki’s re-election, however, their relationship has deteriorated. The Governor suddenly veered to the right at the start of his third term, refusing to entertain talk of tax increases and pushing instead for deep cuts to Medicaid and the health-care services provided by Mr. Rivera’s members. Crying betrayal, the union launched a series of ads bludgeoning the Governor’s fiscal policies. Now the union is taking its campaign a step further, boosting the Governor’s new Republican rival, Mr. Bruno.
Meanwhile, Mr. Pataki has been getting help from some powerful new friends of his own: The New York Post reported on April 21 that the Governor had held a private strategy session with Mr. Norquist, one of the chief architects of the anti-tax movement in America. In an interview with The Observer, he said that he was planning to pour resources into a campaign supporting the Governor because New York’s budget fight has broader significance for the debate unfolding on the national level about taxes. Anti-tax activists across the country, who are enjoying huge success at a federal level now that Republicans control the White House and Congress, have begun to push for a similar downsizing of state government, a principle that Mr. Pataki now embraces. Mr. Norquist said that a victory over taxation in New York, a traditionally liberal state, would be a rallying cry for anti-tax forces across the country.
“We’re in the process of taking the Reaganization of the Republican Party down to the state level,” Mr. Norquist said, referring to former President Ronald Reagan’s efforts to reduce the size of the federal government through massive tax cuts. If Mr. Pataki holds firm in his anti-tax position, Mr. Norquist continued, “we’ll be able to point to New York and say, ‘The Republicans there are fighting against higher taxes.'”
Whatever the effect of New York’s budget battles on the national debate, it is clear that the outcome will have repercussions for Mr. Pataki himself. The Governor is widely assumed to have his eye on a future position in the Bush administration, whose approach to fiscal policy has been heavily influenced by Mr. Norquist and other fiscal conservatives.
“Pataki and his staff have visions of moving to Washington someday,” said Republican political consultant Scott Reed. “So economic conservatives across the country will be watching closely.”