Budget Deficit Will Be Dealt With ‘Collaboratively;’ Paterson Plan Not Forthcoming

ALBANY—David Paterson's first attempt to bridge a mid-year budget deficit will not be developed a priori, but rather is working with the legislature to develop a plan, his top budget official said on a conference call.

"We do want to work collaboratively with the legislature because we want something that works," Bob Megna, the budget director, told reporters. "We want a plan that works. We want something the legislature can feel comfortable in implementing, but I must tell you that if the legislature does not get to the point that they can provide solutions, the governor will, you know, take his position as leader of the state seriously and provide a plan to eliminate the gap. Right now we are working collaboratively to try to come up with a joint plan."

 "I think we want to try to use the month of October to work collaboratively with the legislature. You know, no dates have been set in stone, and we continue to try to work with legislative staff to come to some agreement to solve the remaining part of the problem."

There is one problem with this approach: legislative agreement seems to be a pipe dream at this point, with a narrow Democratic majority in the State Senate making it hard for lawmakers to swallow hard and enact unpopular spending cuts. At the same time, Paterson's own political weakness would mean any plan for the budget he proposes would be immediately attacked. New York law is set up for the executive to take the lead in making budget proposals.

It's unclear when any action might take place; above, Megna hinted it could take the entire month of October, but later said a solution is being concocted "as quickly as possible." Megna also would not say that there was a firm agreement on the size of the deficit–at a recent leaders meeting, David Paterson said he thought the imbalance would reach $3 billion; legislative leaders only assented that it would likely be more than the $2.1 billion projected in July.

So…yeah. Things are moving as only they can in Albany.

Megna made the statements as he announced a directive from Paterson to reduce spending by state agencies by $500 million, or 11 percent. Megna said this was "pushing the envelope" of what Paterson could do without the consent of the legislature. Megna did not elaborate how the cuts would be implemented–that will fall the discretion of individual agencies. They are limited, however, to non-personnel items like "paper clips."

A table provided by the Budget Division show that the biggest cuts are $90 million to SUNY and $69 million from the Department of Correctional Services.

Megna was asked about the role Richard Ravitch is playing in these discussions, in light of my report last week that he is taking the lead negotiating for a deficit reduction package and Fred Dicker's report that he is frustrated that David Paterson isn't focusing on the budget.

"I think the lieutenant governor has been incredibly involved in setting our strategy for how we move forward, not only for the current year, but also for how we move into the next year," Megna said. "He's had a more high-level view of where we are and where we're headed."

He added that "I think the working relationship with all folks both on the second floor and the first floor is great."

"Any sense that there's conflict there, I think, is just not accurate," he said.