Setting The State Budget On A Course For Timely Passage

Former New York State Governor David Paterson

Former New York State Governor David Paterson

The New York state budget has been passed before the April first deadline for two consecutive years, the first time since 1983 that feat was achieved. The budget totals roughly $132 billion. Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers are feeling awfully proud of themselves these days for doing the job they are paid to do. So much so that they took two weeks off. Well, state lawmakers won’t say it is two weeks off because they tend to business within the district.

But after almost two decades of late budgets the one crowing the most about setting into motion early or on-time state budgets is former Governor David Paterson, who served as chief executive from March 2008 to December 2010.

It was in 2010, after Paterson did a couple of serious end runs around the Legislature, including winning the right to appoint his Lieutenant Governor, when state lawmakers gave him more agita than he cared to accept. The state budget was in need of being trimmed by $33 billion.

“By the time we got to 2010 I had run out of persuasions, threats, schmoozing – none of it was working,” Paterson recalls. “We had to figure out ways to make sure that there were still emergency services, police and fire and still be able to work, even though there was no government because there was no money to finance the government.”

The stalemate ended when Paterson started to send lawmakers bills that authorized spending for essential services, called extenders. When the legislators continued the stalemate beyond what he deemed a reasonable timeframe, he acted in a way no other governor had.

“I started writing (budget) cuts into the extenders,” the former Senate Democratic leader said. “The Legislature was miffed, angered, chagrined, shocked, mad and generally vituperative. I found, as a former legislator, that maybe one of the limitations I had as governor is that because I knew the people so well, I was often miffed to take an action that would really upset them. When I did take such an action, I found it quite appealing,” he half-heartedly joked.

Then the feuding between the executive and legislative branches ratcheted up a bit more and tensions began to boil over. Paterson recalls one particular heated exchange he had with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“Like the time the Speaker said to me, ‘I worked with four governors and I really thought that you were going to be the best one, but this is the most malicious act I’ve ever seen a governor take, the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever seen in government and it is also the most vindictive act I’ve ever seen taken against the Legislature.’

“And I said, ‘I don’t think it is. I can think of one that’s greater.’ He said, ‘Which one is that?’ And I said, ‘What I’m going to do tomorrow.’

“So at this point,” Paterson continued, “the Legislature had to vote in my budget or pass their own. What they did was pass their own — a budget that was totally antithetical of everything that I had asked for. So that I couldn’t veto it with one stroke of a pen, they divided it up into measure by measure – 6,709 of them. Then they said ‘He won’t read them all and they’ll be vetoed by an auto-pen, showing that this governor really doesn’t take the Legislature seriously.’

“To show them that I would take them seriously, I vetoed every single measure by hand. And just so they wouldn’t miss it, I put it on YouTube. It took eight-and-a-half hours. I nearly died doing it, but I knew that if I lived, it would be the greatest thing I ever did in my life!”

Now Paterson, 58, maintains that the reason the past two budgets were approved before the deadline is because the legislative leaders believe Governor Andrew Cuomo is going to put his entire proposed budget in the extender and make lawmakers vote up or down on it. If they vote down on it they would close down the government.

Paterson made his remarks before a group of young lawyers attending a recent New York State Bar Association meeting in Manhattan. Afterwards, he found it ironic that he was invited to speak when he did not pass the bar exam, partially the result of insufficient accommodation for his visual limitations. Paterson said times have changed since he graduated from Hofstra Law School in 1983.

“There was a committee that I served on back in the ‘90s and they have made some really good changes and you see more people like myself passing the bar,” he said. “So as soon as I have more time I’ll go take it again. I would take it again because now I think I have a fair chance. In 1982 I think the statistics showed that there needed to be some changes and the Bar Association helped to make those changes. It’s never too late.”

I’ll keep you posted if the former governor decides to take this grueling exam.