Gov. David A. Paterson on Monday night wasted little time vetoing some of the last major spending portions of the budget that had breezed through the State Legislature just hours earlier.
The governor took out his veto stamp, with reporters as his witnesses, to strike out $419 million in education spending he said is politically popular in an election year but unaffordable for the state.
And he said more vetoes are coming -- 6,900 of them in line-item fashion.
"Rather than act in the interest of the people of New York State, [legislators] have engaged in legislation that is in self-interest and have presented us with a series of bills that have the same gimmicks, chicanery and avoidance conduct that has characterized fiscal management in this state for far too long," Paterson said.
The vetoes came as a major push to give more financial autonomy to the State University of New York -- an integral part of the University at Buffalo's expansion plans -- appeared all but dead Monday night.
Lawmakers approved the last major spending bills of the budget for 2010-11, the fiscal year that began April 1, with no one being able to say with any certainty how much the overall plan will cost taxpayers.
The Democratic-led Assembly and Senate passed the massive section of the budget that provides state aid to 700 school districts, restoring $600 million -- $419 million during the state's current fiscal year -- in the coming school year above what Paterson proposed.
Before lawmakers barely had time to boast of the additional school money in news releases back home, Paterson whacked the extra money -- daring them to try to get the two-thirds necessary in the two chambers for an override.
"You can't spend money you don't have," Paterson said. Democrats in the Legislature condemned his vetoes, though Republicans in the Senate voted against the added spending and seem uninterested in helping in any override effort. The vetoes included $33 million in restorations beyond what the governor said was affordable for schools in Erie County and $10 million in Niagara County.
The last of the budget bills are being taken up today, including one totaling more than 300 pages that would raise more than $1 billion in various taxes and fees, such as higher sales taxes on clothing purchases, online hotel bookings and charitable donations by wealthy people. It also puts into law the ability for gay couples married in other states or countries to list themselves as married for New York State income tax purposes.
Meanwhile, the obituary was written for the proposal pushed by UB and the rest of SUNY to permit the public colleges to raise tuition and to more freely engage in partnerships with private companies.
The plan fell to opposition in the Assembly after two Senate Democrats -- including Sen. William T. Stachowski of Lake View -- backed off a threat to withhold their crucial votes on the education bill if the SUNY plan were not included.
Stachowski and Senate Democratic leaders insisted they still have leverage in the coming days -- including a threat not to vote today for the final revenue portion of the budget -- to push the Assembly on the effort giving SUNY more financial autonomy from the state. One idea calls for "carving out" UB and the State University at Stony Brook to let it begin the program on a pilot basis.
But a key lawmaker in the Assembly called that idea a nonstarter. "I think that has very little support in our conference," said Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah J. Glick, D-Manhattan, who believes that the SUNY plan would harm low-income students.
"Frankly, I really don't understand why people in the Western New York region can go back and tell the working- and middle-class people in their districts, 'UB is going to be great, but you won't be able to afford to go,' " Glick said.
The level of drama peaked Monday afternoon when the first budget bill of the day -- covering aid to public schools and SUNY, as well as a variety of social services programs -- was pulled from the Senate floor at Stachowski's request. The lawmaker then huddled behind closed doors with Senate leaders before emerging to say he would not hold up passage of the bill. All 32 Democratic votes in the Senate have been needed to pass budget bills because Republicans have been voting in a bloc against them.
Stachowski and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John L. Sampson of Brooklyn sought to put a positive spin on the maneuver, insisting they can still prod the Assembly their way before the 2010 legislative ends likely in the coming days. Sampson said he "will do all I can" to get the SUNY plan approved this week.
But Republicans said the issue died when Senate Democrats passed the higher-education bill without the SUNY component. "It's absolutely dead. We've given up all of our leverage in negotiations with the Assembly," said Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane. "UB 2020 will not happen this year, which is just another knife in the back to Western New York," Maziarz said of the UB plan that proposes a major expansion of the campus in downtown Buffalo.
Some backers of UB 2020, which envisions thousands of new jobs in the Buffalo area, said Stachowski and Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo, should have used their crucial votes on the budget to get the SUNY bill, which lawmakers had been calling the biggest "ask" this year of the state by the Western New York delegation.
"They didn't deliver," said Sam Capitano, vice president of the Buffalo Construction Trades Council, who said thousands of construction jobs are on the line.
"Our politicians from Erie County have no stroke here. Western New York gets the shaft again," said Capitano, who is also the business manager of the Laborers Local 210 in Buffalo.
In the Assembly, Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said downstate Democrats could not be convinced to back the SUNY plan. "I'm disappointed. I think it's a mistake," Peoples-Stokes said of the Assembly's opposition to the SUNY plan. "A majority of members with SUNY campuses in their districts could have voted for this, but were not given the opportunity."
Critics say the plan hit low-income students by not keeping grants under the Tuition Assistance Program on pace with future tuition increases.
Paterson, who proposed the SUNY plan, said lawmakers who blocked it had "sent a strong message" that they "prefer mediocrity in our public colleges and universities."
The public education piece passed by lawmakers Monday steered $200 million of the $600 million in restorations to the state's Big Five districts. Of that, $177 million was for New York City; $7 million would go to Buffalo. The remaining $400 million was spread across the state -- at least for the two hours before Paterson vetoed the spending Monday night.
Lawmakers rejected Paterson's proposal to cap local property taxes. They plan Wednesday to pass a bill driving a portion of the additional school aid money they restored -- but Paterson vetoed -- toward property tax cuts this summer. The amount would have been modest -- $271 million spread statewide. By contrast, the sales tax increase on clothing and shoe purchases would bring Albany $330 million in higher revenues this year.
Before Monday, about 70 percent of the budget had already been passed in weekly emergency bills since the budget became late when the fiscal year began. Besides money for public schools, lawmakers restored spending that Paterson wanted to trim to SUNY, community colleges and grants for college students. And they added back money for adult homeless shelters, child care grants to localities and foster care programs.
Paterson said the added legislative spending threatened to "put the finances of New Yorkers in jeopardy." He said the Legislature also ignored his call to come up with a contingency plan, as already embraced in other states, in the growing chance that New York will get as much as $1 billion less in federal Medicaid reimbursement this year.