ALBANY -- The state Legislature returned to the Capitol Monday at the order of Gov. David Paterson to close a $315 million mid-year budget deficit, but a senior official with the New York Senate's Democratic majority says the Legislature won't act on the Governor's plan.
The official says there was no agreement on the proposal and it won't get to a floor vote in the Senate. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak for the majority.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says that that if the Legislature doesn't address the current budget deficit, the state will be in worse shape in January.
DiNapoli also insists the deficit is really three times greater than Paterson's $315 million estimate.
The Senate and Assembly were headed into session late after all-day negotiations.
Legislature leaders were meeting behind closed doors with Paterson this afternoon to discuss what could be approved during the lame-duck special session, slated to start at 3 p.m.
Paterson is calling on lawmakers to close the mid-year budget cut through across-the-board cuts to programs, including about $150 million in school-aid cuts and about $90 million to hospitals and health-care facilities.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, told reporters this morning that cuts, particularly to schools, may be needed to deal with the state's fiscal troubles.
"There have to be cuts somewhere and unfortunately school aid may be part of it," he said.
Democrats hold a slim 32-29 seat majority with one vacancy in the Senate, but Republicans are likely to take control in January after gains on Election Day earlier this month. Some lawmakers have suggested that any budget cuts or major decisions be left until next year, when a new Legislature is seated and Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo takes office.
But Cuomo has urged lawmakers to take action this year to close the budget gap, and Skelos and Senate Democrats have indicated a willingness to try to deal with the gap this year.
Still, lawmakers said they have yet to see any of Paterson's budget bills, so details of what Paterson is proposing are sketchy.
The tenuous situation in the Senate, in which three contests from Election Day are still outstanding, is expected to require a bi-partisan deal if any legislation is passed today because some lawmakers may not show up.
The state faces at least a $9 billion budget gap next fiscal year, which starts April 1. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has predicted that the current year gap could rise to $1 billion before the current fiscal year ends March 31.
Hospitals are decrying any cuts, saying it would erode services and mean a 6.7 percent reduction in aid to health-care providers.
"The extent to which the health care community remains disproportionately fair game for the budget scalpel is astonishing," said Brian Conway, spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association.
"Can you imagine the reaction if, just once, state workers were asked to accept a 6.7 percent pay cut?"
The governor sets the agenda for special sessions, but lawmakers are not required to take up any of the bills.
Today's agenda also includes a bill to create a commission to evaluate and adjust judicial salaries, which haven't been increased since 1999, and eliminate the required one-year notice before closing a state facility - aimed at helping Cuomo consolidate services, one of his key campaign promises.
They are most likely to pass more than $600 million in federal education jobs money that needs state Legislature approval.
Paterson also wants lawmakers to freeze the money school districts pay for students who attend charter schools and enact a plan allowing for the continued operation of the troubled New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.
The bailout of OTB appears unlikely. Skelos said the Republican conference is not expected to support the bailout, which would pull money from other OTBs in the state to keep the New York City OTB afloat. New York City OTB is threatening to shut down next month without the bailout.
"I don't see a need to do the OTB so-called bailout right now," Skelos said. "We haven't had really the time to analysis it. We don't think it's necessary, and it would hurt many of the regional OTBs in a negative way, which would impact real property taxpayers in a negative way."
Paterson also wants the Senate to approve 147 gubernatorial nominations, most of which are for non-paying positions on boards, agencies and authorities. The only salaried posts are for five members of the Board of Parole, one of whom is being reappointed, one position on the Workers Compensation Board and six judges.
Sources: Gannett News Service/ Associated Press