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Parties press efforts to control State Senate

The majority leader, a couple of Democratic incumbents and a Republican challenger all underscored the intensifying effort to control the State Senate through a string of events Tuesday around downtown Buffalo.

Sen. Dean G. Skelos of Rockville Centre, scrambling to retain the top Senate job he inherited in June, appeared in front of County Hall with County Legislator Michael H. Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican seeking a Senate seat, to push a spending cap measure he said could avert the multibillion dollar budget deficit projected for next year.

But while the Senate has passed a constitutional amendment bill that would limit yearly spending increases to 4 percent, the real idea was to link it to Ranzenhofer and his torrid race against Joe Mesi, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, in one of the contests that could determine control of the Senate in January.

"This is a time when we need someone who is thoughtful, who has never voted for a tax increase and who, quite honestly, will represent the western part of the state," Skelos said.

Republicans -- who hold a slim 31-29 majority in the Senate, are fighting to retain control by emphasizing spending cuts and other measures to avoid tax increases at all costs. Skelos called any notion of raising taxes to fill the gap a "huge mistake."

"We would lose our competitiveness and our ability to attract jobs," Skelos said, citing Ranzenhofer's record of never voting for a tax increase.

"People have to adjust as costs go up and the same needs to be done in Albany," Ranzenhofer added.

Mesi immediately returned fire by trying to link Ranzenhofer to Skelos and GOP leaders.

"Mike Ranzenhofer has formed a close bond with his downstate patron Dean Skelos," Mesi said. "The problem is that Skelos' Republican majority has signed off on budget after budget with reckless spending increases. Skelos and Ranzenhofer together equals more of the same."

The spending cap passed by the Senate has gone nowhere in the Assembly.

But while Skelos also cited a story in Monday's editions of The Buffalo News pointing to the possibility of an all-New York City leadership of state government, Democratic Sens. William T. Stachowski of Lake View and Antoine M. Thompson of Buffalo summoned reporters to the steps of the Mahoney State Office Building to debunk the idea and emphasize the positives of a GOP defeat.

The two said more than 40 years of Republican leadership in the Senate has proven "disastrous" for upstate.

Thompson said Stachowski stands in line to become chairman of the powerful Finance Committee should the Democrats take over. And Stachowski, locked in a tight battle with Republican challenger Dennis A. Delano of Cheektowaga, said leading the committee would prevent the traditional influence of Long Island Republicans from shortchanging other school districts around the state at budget time.

"We think having a chairman of [the Finance Committee] would give Buffalo a pretty good chance," Stachowski said.

Republicans were quick to point out that Thompson was slated to appear Tuesday evening at a fundraiser for Senate Democrats in Manhattan.

Skelos said he agreed with The News story outlining that if the Democrats claim the Senate, all leaders in the legislative and executive branches would hail from New York City.

"If we lose the majority -- and we will not -- the total balance of power in the state will shift to New York City," he said, warning against an all-Democratic Legislature he said would be inclined to raise taxes.

News Staff Reporter Tom Precious contributed to this report.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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