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State emergency spending bill pending

Unable to broker a budget deal, state lawmakers could not even agree Friday night on the terms of an emergency measure to keep the state government running for the next couple of weeks.

With many rank-and-file members fleeing Albany for a break, the Assembly managed to pass a $4.6 billion measure to ensure the treasury has enough money to pay state workers, provide unemployment checks and keep the Medicaid program funded until April 14.

But the Senate left Albany without passing any bills, with plans to return Monday to approve the emergency spending bill.

The deadline for a 2010 budget is March 31, and the houses were far apart over how to spend some $136 billion, how much in taxes to raise and whether to borrow as much as $2 billion to close a recession-battered budget and its deficit.

"Right now, everything is not certain," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson. As nightfall neared, with some lawmakers already on the Thruway heading home, a panel of legislative leaders and some rank-and-file lawmakers met in public for a series of prepared speeches that flowed with rhetoric detailing the difficult choices they were being asked to make to deal with the deficit.

"This is a bluff," Sen. Thomas Libous, a Binghamton Republican and member of the panel, said of the public session, which he suggested was designed to provide cover for the secretive budget process between the governor and Legislature.

Lawmakers were due to pass the emergency spending bill at midday Friday. But a last-minute snag halted planned sessions in the two houses, as the sides feuded with Gov. David A. Paterson over an effort to bail out the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., a money-losing, state-owned entity that officials say will be forced to close in two weeks without financial help.

But with cuts planned for a host of popular education, health care and social welfare programs, lawmakers and Paterson could not agree on how -- or whether -- to take any steps that would be perceived as a bailout of a gambling enterprise.

Senate Republicans accused Democrats in control of the house of heading home Friday afternoon instead of passing the emergency legislation. Instead, Democrats, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, will bring the Senate back to session Monday to pass the same bill approved Friday evening by the Assembly.

"The deadline is April 1," Sampson said three times when asked by reporters why the Democrats did not just pass the emergency bill Friday instead of returning Monday. He said many senators will be in Albany this weekend.

With the emergency legislation approved in the Assembly and ready for passage Monday in the Senate, the government will have enough money to pay for various key functions until April 14. Lawmakers' calendar called for an 11-day break beginning Friday night to carry them through the Christian and Jewish holidays.

The emergency bill passed by the Assembly includes nearly $3 billion in Medicaid payments, $400 million in state worker salaries and a $500 million statutory payment to public schools due April 1.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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