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Spitzer touts budget successes His West Seneca living room chat heralds property tax cuts, increased aid to education

Fresh from the bruising battle over his first state budget, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer hit the road in West Seneca on Wednesday to acknowledge its shortcomings but tout it as not such a bad deal after all.

The governor and Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson descended upon the George Avenue home of Tony and Diane DeJoseph on Wednesday morning in another of the living room chats they are using to drive home the agenda items they hold most dear.

This chat emphasized that the new budget's $1.3 billion property tax cut -- $200 million less than what he proposed but totaling $6 billion over three years -- will result in "real savings" for middle-class homeowners.

"It's not enough to give the savings to someone who has a $5 million house," Spitzer said in the DeJosephs' neat living room. "We all want the benefit for those in the middle class."

That, he said, is part of an overall attack on the root causes of upstate's faltering economy.

"That's why I'm so concerned about property taxes," Spitzer said. "Everywhere I went during eight years as attorney general and then running for governor, people said property taxes have gone out of sight; high energy costs have driven jobs away, along with workers' compensation. And that's why we have made it our mission to address those three issues."

The governor seemed to pick the perfect setting to hammer home what he sees as the benefits of the new spending plan. He gushed about the record $1.8 billion in new spending for education as the DeJosephs' five school-age children looked on. And he pointed out a family that makes in the $70,000 to $90,000 range will eventually realize more than $1,000 in property tax savings over the next three years.
That's not enough to turn around a family's fortunes, he said, but it can buy new furniture, finance a vacation or contribute to college tuition costs.

"This is what we got and why we fought so hard," he said.

In an earlier discussion with editors and reporters of The Buffalo News, Spitzer acknowledged that not all of his budget objectives were met. He said some negotiations were conducted in secret despite his desire for a more open process. He admitted he didn't get the $1.3 billion he wanted cut out of Medicaid spending but got $1 billion.

And he said the principles guiding education spending were determined by need of districts rather than political power, even though State Senate Republicans forced another $400 million into the $121 billion budget.

"We're controlling spending in a meaningful way," he said. "Not as much as I wanted, but I'm controlling spending."

Still, Spitzer and Paterson wanted to convey the idea that despite Albany's roadblocks, there were benefits for average citizens in places such as West Seneca. An Apple computer salesman at Walden Galleria, DeJoseph and his family seemed to buy into the plan.

They nodded in agreement as the governor outlined a 10.2 percent hike in spending for West Seneca schools along with the budget's requirement that schools and school districts be held accountable for results.

"It's $1.8 billion above and beyond what we did last year, but only if you spend it right," Spitzer said.

And after Diane DeJoseph's mother, Dolores Mason, related the difficulties associated with the high cost of prescription drugs while living on Social Security, Spitzer outlined a number of steps the state is taking to rein in Medicaid costs. That remains a priority, he said, because those costs are ultimately borne by the property taxes he wants to reduce.

"We're working at it," he said. "It's an endeavor; like watching the tide come in and out."

Unlike after the January showdown with the Legislature over the appointment of a new comptroller in which he lambasted individual legislators by name, Spitzer said he has changed those tactics. He was joined in the DeJoseph home by Sen. William T. Stachowski and Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder, both of Buffalo and both Democrats, even though Schroeder clashed with the governor over the comptroller appointment.

"I just don't like reading from the same script every day," Spitzer told The News. "But I will continue to challenge legislators of both parties.

"I believe I sent a message to the Legislature," he added, "and I haven't changed one iota in that regard."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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