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PATAKI AND SILVER RESUME NEGOTIATIONS TALKS FOLLOW BITTER TV EXCHANGE

After trading sharp attacks on statewide television Thursday, Gov. Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver headed back to the bargaining table today as negotiations continued on a new state budget.

Pataki and Silver, D-Manhattan, leveled harsh charges against each other during Thursday's unprecedented live broadcast on 30 television stations across the state.

But after the 6 p.m. exchange, Silver for the first time pledged to keep state spending below last year's level, indicating he and Pataki might have moved a little closer to ending the stalemate.

Silver previously had said that limiting state spending was not as important as producing a fair and balanced budget.

For weeks, he has evaded reporters' questions about how much more money he wants to spend than Pataki.

But Thursday he agreed to comply with Pataki's goal to cut state spending in the next budget, meaning he would limit additions to Pataki's proposal to less than $1.1 billion.

"I believe that based on available revenues we can make restorations that share the pain across the board geographically and economically," he said.

In the televised "debate" -- Pataki spoke for five minutes, followed by Silver -- Silver accused Pataki of a "Newt Gingrich approach to governing . . . of helping the rich get richer."

Pataki accused Silver of delaying the entire budget and attempting to "distort our goals and to create fear."

Both urged people to call the state legislators or governor to support their position on the budget. Many phone calls were logged at both Silver's and Pataki's office immediately after the broadcast.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, said they want to add at least $200 million more to the budget than they had announced only two days ago.

Privately, they say a total of $662 million could be added to Pataki's spending plan.

All of this leaves the Legislature and Pataki having to decide how to divide approximately $1 billion in spending and $1 billion in tax cuts.

With the state budget due by midnight Saturday, Pataki and legislative leaders are scheduled to meet this morning.

If no agreement is reached, Senate Republicans plan to conclude action on a spending plan that they hope will force the Democrat-controlled Assembly into a compromise.

Silver blasted that plan as "phony" because it does not include all the spending the GOP really wants.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, announced an "economic development package," including $80 million in business tax cuts and at least $20 million for the construction of stadiums and other projects.

He said it is not added spending but investment in job creation and economic development.

The Senate, meanwhile, approved more of its version of the state budget, including the restoration of $86 million -- from the $290 million cut by Pataki -- from the State University system.

"This is a lot of good will and lot of good reason. . . . I think everyone should pony up and say thank-you," University at Buffalo President William Greiner said of the Senate's legislation.

"I think it tends to establish a (spending) floor. I doubt that the Assembly would want to reduce it."

"I am glad to see that (the Republicans) recognize there was harm in the original cuts," Silver said. "I can't fix all the (cuts in the Pataki budget proposal). I don't intend to fix it. I believe we have to pare down government."

"I am absolutely willing to pass a budget that spends less than last year. Yes, sir," Silver said.

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