Senate Dems, Teachers Question Paterson’s Ability to ‘Impound’ Funds

ALBANY—We’ll see you in court, governor, if you do delay the payments.

State Senator Eric Schneiderman held a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon to say that David Paterson stands on legally dubious ground when he says he will unilaterally delay payments to localities and schools. The governor has threatened to do so, saying the deficit reduction bill passed Wednesday didn’t go far enough to address the state’s cash crunch.

“It’s really just him trying to amend the budget in the middle of the year, which the Court of Appeals has said over and over again is unlawful. Like it or not, the Constitution gives the power to pass and amend the budget to the legislature, and I hope that the governor…you know. I think the governor is a law-abiding citizen. I think he wants to solve the problem rather than generate wasteful litigation,” Schneiderman said, citing the case of Oneida County v. Berle. It says that the governor “may not override [budgetary] enactments which have emerged from the lawmaking process.”

Paterson argues that since he is delaying payments uniformly, he is within his rights.

“I love the governor, he is one of my best friends in Albany, but I just think he’s, you know, I don’t think this is legal,” Schneiderman said. He does not foresee the Senate initiating legal action, but possibly supporting it if a locality or school district did.

Alan Lubin, the executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, said his organization would certainly bring an action if school aid was delayed. Paterson had originally said this, but according to Lubin his top aide was walking back the threat.

“Larry Schwartz absolutely denied that they threatened to impound the money, but we are working with our allies to respond immediately with whatever action might be necessary, including potential court suits,” Lubin said. “It’s just absolutely the wrong thing to do.”

Details of this conversation could not be confirmed. But the threat of action stands.

Lubin said it would not just be a court action. NYSUT funded radio advertisements to lobby against education cuts in the deficit bill, and he said a similar campaign would be revived with its sights squarely on the governor.

“We would go all out,” Lubin said.

Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman, sent along this statement:

“Yesterday, the Legislature failed to close the budget gap and did nowhere near enough to address New York’s long-term fiscal stability. Simply put, the State can not spend what it does not have, and Governor Paterson will withhold certification of payments for spending New York can’t afford. Had the Legislature acted in a fiscally responsible way, this would not be necessary.  The Governor will not let the State run out of money.”