No Deal, Mixed Messages After Leaders Meet

ALBANY—Emerging from a thirty-minute closed-door meeting with David Paterson, legislative leaders said they are still working on a deal on the mid-year deficit and hoped it could pass soon, but Paterson insisted we’re still in Armageddonous territory.

“I don’t know why people are walking out of here saying they’re very close to a deal. I don’t know why people are leaving here happy and I don’t know why it is so difficult to understand that we have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of the State of New York with obligations that will be met in December, and the only way to reduce this deficit is real and recurring cuts; not phony estimates of revenues that don’t exist,” Paterson said. “This is a prelude to what will be continued unhappiness, because it reflects the way this entire state will be if we don’t handle our finances, which are in very dire straits right now.”

Paterson said he was just being “realistic,” and that he will keep lawmakers in Albany as long as it takes. “We’re going to have to have an arrangement made otherwise I’m going to have to sit down with the comptroller and sit down with the budget director and start talking about ways to reduce our deficit as administratively as we can, because we’re going to come up short on payments in December.” He declined to get specific.

Over the course of the day, Paterson softened on his overall $3.2 billion target, and legislative leaders maintained their optimism. Emerging from Tuesday evening’s meeting, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos called the meeting “positive discussions.”

“Now we’re engaged, we’re involved, and we’re going to be pushing our recommendations,” he said.

“I think the discussions are serious and deliberate, and I think we’re finally at that point where there’s ongoing discussions between everybody,” Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb, who today presented his own deficit plan, said. “This is the first round of real serious talks that I think I’ve seen in the last month.

Democratic legislative leaders–one from the Assembly, two from the Senate–said little.

“Still working. Still a work in progress,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said.

“We’re not in the process of committing government malpractice,” John Sampson said. “We understand what our responsibility is–our fiscal responsibility–and we’re going to get it done.”

Someone asked Sampson if the Republican optimism–and inclusion–was a recognition that he would be unable to herd his conference toward voting as a bloc for any plan with the cuts to spending upon which Paterson is insistent.

“Not at all,” Sampson said. “It’s not about Democrat or Republican, it’s about working together.”

The beginning of the meeting was almost more noteworthy than the end. Sampson arrived 30 minutes late, prompting Skelos to arrive and leave, telling the gathered press that “they can’t find Senator Sampson” and speculating, snarkily, that there might have been “a coup within a coup.”

Nominal Senate President Malcolm Smith arrived a short while later–“I’m the Senate President,” he said when I asked him where Sampson was–and an aide explained Sampson’s tardiness.

“He’s been being a senator; dealing with senatorial issues,” Paul Rivera, the communications director, said as Sampson arrived.

“I had to go to the bathroom,” he explained.

No Deal, Mixed Messages After Leaders Meet