ALBANY—David Paterson just said on a conference call he would agree to basically anything that would bridge the deficit.
“I am less and less ideological about deficit reduction. We just have to do it,” Paterson said on a conference call with legislative leaders. “In other words, if the four of you agreed on something, you know, that I don’t right now, I’d be persuaded to go along with it because my main thrust is doing what’s right for the people of New York, which is not injure our financial position as so many states have.”
The sticking points on a deficit reduction plan–there is about $3 billion worth of deficit–are Paterson’s proposals to cut education and health care. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said he wants education cuts to be distributed equally among districts, Silver said “I’m supportive of cuts that will bring us to a balanced budget, and pass in both houses” and Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said any cuts were unacceptable. So not much progress her, despite claims to the contrary.
Later, taking questions from reporters, Paterson clarified that “it’s the deficit that’s killing our state” and that he was holding firm to solve it. He was asked if he could move away from the education and health care cuts, and said “I don’t see how health care and education cuts could not be part of the plan, because they’re 55 percent of the budget.”
But this indicates a basic capitulation by Paterson. His budget office is now evaluating a proposal by Senate Democrats to refinance the state’s tobacco bonds that he has dismissed consistently, and yesterday he said he was willing to reconsider the health care cuts.
Everyone on the call agreed to have their staffs meet. They seem optimistic that a plan can be passed during a special session next week.
The beginning of the call was dominated by Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who played inquisitor, asking Democrats whether they agreed to painful cuts.
“What real cuts are being supported by the Speaker?” Skelos asked Silver, who then seized the floor with an intense-sounding rebuttal.
“Senator, I don’t believe that the secretary of state swore you in as a district attorney or a prosecutor here that you can just begin to ask all these questions,” he said, reprising a bickering match from the last public leaders meeting. “Let me just say this: You’ve had the telephone, or whatever it is, for the last 10 minutes, and all you do is ask questions. You have not proposed one cut: let’s be clear. The $2 billion you talked about that you agreed with the governor is all about fund raids. You’re willing to raid every fund in the state and be totally irresponsible.”
Skelos listed some cuts, which totaled around $450 million, then shot back.
“You called me a prosecutor; you are a very good trial lawyer!”