Reaction to the Paterson Declaration

ALBANY—The first reactions to David Paterson’s “executive option proposal” are mostly not positive.

“What’s next, martial law?” Assemblyman Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat, asked.

Paterson’s proposal would, temporarily, give him the power to make spending and revenue decisions to bridge a multi-billion dollar mid-year imbalance. Article VII of the State Constitution describes New York’s budget process. The governor has the power to submit an executive budget, but the final authority for spending rests in approval of the legislature. I asked State Senator Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat and long-practicing attorney, whether this was Constitutional.

“My initial reaction is that I seriously question whether it’s constitutional; whether we can abrogate, through legislation, any of our constitutional powers,” Breslin said. “Initially, that’s a commitment that I don’t think legislators should be eager or quick to give up. We have our own responsibilities and my initial reaction is that I would be opposed to that.”

“Not only that, but it violates several hundred years of American history,” said Professor Gerald Benjamin, an expert on New York government who teaches at SUNY New Paltz. “Let me remind you: the American Revolution occurred on a number of issues, one of which was called taxation without representation. And the location of fiscal authority in the legislature was a fundamental tenet of representative government, and we have given the power to tax and the power to spend to legislative bodies.”

He added, in reference to the State Senate, “The fact that somebody’s irresponsible doesn’t take away the fundamental point that that institution should do what it is supposed to do.”

Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, applauded the fact that Paterson was trying something.

“Governor Paterson’s willingness to take the heat for making the budget cuts that are required to save New York State’s credit rating is a demonstration of political courage unlike any we have seen in Albany for some time,” she said. “The business community fully supports his request that the Legislature authorize the Governor to act on behalf of the public interest to forestall a deeper fiscal crisis and urges quick passage of the authorizing legislation.”