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Spat stalls key bills in Legislature Spitzer, Bruno unable to agree; talks collapse

A nasty battle between Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and the State Legislature's top Republican caused talks to collapse Thursday as legislators pushed to end their 2007 session, stalling agreements on measures to bring nutritious food to schools, clean up aging industrial sites in Western New York and give property tax breaks to seniors.

The breakdown between Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno delays nearly $1 billion in state-funded capital programs, including building projects at the University at Buffalo and Canisius College and renovation of the aging Hyatt Regency Buffalo hotel complex in downtown Buffalo.

The traditional Albany style of negotiating -- in which major, unrelated issues are linked to one another -- roared back to life this week, resulting in frustrated lawmakers relegated to poring through hundreds of mostly minor bills Thursday as more sweeping deals on health care, the environment and the upstate economy were tossed aside.

A proposal to permit the use of marijuana for people with life-threatening illnesses also stalled.

Lawmakers said deals on major projects did not come together because Spitzer had linked them to a plan to sharply lower donation limits by special interests and individuals.

"He is hung up on campaign finance reform -- and relates that to almost everything else that is open, and I think it's inappropriate," Bruno said after emerging from a closed-door session with colleagues.

Spitzer sharply denied any direct linkage but said the influence of special-interest money on Senate Republicans "is evident in everything they do and don't do." He lashed out at the Senate -- leaving the Democratic-run Assembly out of his criticism -- for leaving Albany Thursday with major business unresolved.

"We did not take our marbles and run from the field," Spitzer said.

Despite the warring words, the Legislature is likely to return again this summer, possibly as early as next month, to try again to broker new deals. Negotiators said the sides could use a break from what has been six months of stormy relations between the executive and legislative branches.

Among major bills that were approved Thursday, and there were few of them, was a requirement that individuals indicted on rape charges be administered an HIV test. Over the objections of some civil libertarians, lawmakers said it is intended to help rape victims with potentially life-saving health information.

High-profile items that were not resolved include what had been an agreement to cut the cost of public construction projects under the union-backed Wicks Law, an expansion of the state's DNA databank to cover all crimes, a quicker review process for new power plants to help cut energy costs, a package of Senate-backed tax breaks and business incentives for the upstate economy.

"The governor said he wants to create jobs in upstate New York. OK, step up," Bruno said.

Also scuttled was a bid by judges to get a pay raise for the first time since 1999, which also was linked to a legislative pay hike.

A deal to extend the ability of local industrial development agencies to finance construction projects -- from nursing homes to cultural facilities -- was collapsing Thursday night, as was a measure to help the Buffalo schools refinance borrowings to help pay for school construction projects.

Spitzer said Bruno was the one holding things hostage, such as the Senate's failure to approve -- for now -- the governor's choice of Daniel Gundersen as his upstate economic development director.

He added that Bruno sought to link the Wicks Law changes -- which the sides already agreed on -- and other initiatives to a capital projects wish list for Senate Republicans totaling $500 million. Spitzer called it "a horrendous thing to look at" and described it as "pork that was dripping fat." He said he would consider releasing the list publicly.

With Spitzer threatening to veto the bills, the Legislature did not give final approval to measures to carve out St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga and DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda from a state hospital closing plan that is being implemented this year.

The two houses also passed, as expected, a bill to more quickly end the Buffalo control board's power over the city's finances. Spitzer, however, earlier this week said he would be "hard-pressed" to sign any bill weakening the panel's authority unless the city and school district entered into new contracts with their unions.

Owners of homes damaged in Amherst by sinking soil in recent years were given a tax break under legislation given final approval Thursday. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mary Lou Rath and Assemblyman James Hayes, Republicans, gives a temporary assessment abatement.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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