Brooklyn Legislators Fight Paterson, But Brace For Budget Cuts

Home Politics Brooklyn Legislators Fight Paterson, But Brace For Budget Cuts

By Christopher Alessi and Jack Mirkinson

The New York State Assembly Chamber. (Photo courtesy Matt H. Wade/Flickr)
The New York State Assembly Chamber. (Photo courtesy Matt H. Wade/Flickr)

Brooklyn legislators continue to push back against Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget, but they know cuts are coming.

The state budget was due last Thursday, but Paterson and the Legislature have yet to agree on a final version. The Assembly and the Senate have each passed different versions, and the two branches have been in protracted negotiations with each other and with Paterson ever since. The final contours of the budget will emerge from these closed-door discussions.

The governor, who has made reining in the state deficit a top priority, has called for drastic cuts totaling $5.5 billion in state spending. The education and health care sectors are heavily targeted. According to New York City’s Independent Budget Office, $1.3 billion of those cuts are intended for the city, a large part of which could affect its largest borough, Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the Legislature has proposed restoring $1.2 billion of the total state cuts, and continues to fight other proposed reductions. The Assembly has also approved $193 million in restorations for education expenses, but the Senate and the governor have so far rejected this proposal.

To some extent, this situation occurs every year: The governor proposes cuts, the Legislature restores some of them, and the three camps haggle over the final bill. But it has become increasingly clear to Brooklyn legislators that no matter the final budget, their constituents are likely to lose many vital services.

“It’s going to have a devastating impact on my community,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel said. “Everything is going to be affected by this, even in the best-case scenario.”

Maisel’s two priorities are state tuition grants, or TAP grants, for higher education and group homes for the elderly. The Assembly restored the TAP grants in its version, but Maisel admitted that those policies could be removed from a final version of the budget.

“We have to have a compromise,” he said. “It’s not going to be our way or the highway.”

However, compromise will not be easy because, like Maisel, every legislator will be fighting for his or her pet issues. For example, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, chair of the Children and Families Committee, is pushing to restore money for student MetroCards, summer jobs for teenagers, and a revamping of the juvenile justice system. For Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., it is about ensuring that, at the very least, the Assembly’s levels of education spending remain in place. “We need to make sure that the numbers stay where they are, and that the money comes home,” Boyland said. “The bottom line is access to education.”

A spokesperson for Montgomery, Jim Vogel, criticized the governor’s management of the budget process, calling it “top-down management reduction.” “Most agency budgets were reduced a standard percentage of 5 to 15 percent,” he said, adding, “Some of the agencies had already absorbed multiple years of budget cuts, and further cuts would effectively end those agencies and services, which would in many cases be illegal.”

Criticism of the governor is common amongst the state’s legislators. Viola Plummer, who is chief of staff for Assemblywoman Inez Barron, said that Paterson’s cuts to CUNY and SUNY programs were “too severe,” though she could only laugh when asked if she thought all of the nearly $100 million in proposed cuts to the SUNY budget would actually be restored. Plummer’s point was echoed by Boyland, who admitted that “there isn’t much to give out” to many of his favored community organizations.

Similarly, Blair Horner, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, “We do know there will be cuts.” Horner argued that the different budgets being proposed by the Assembly, Senate, and the governor are not so dissimilar. Indeed, he estimated that around 90 percent of the final budget will “be the same across the board.”

Horner’s analysis indicates that politics may be more at work in the budget negotiations than legislators will admit. Looming over the talks is an embattled governor, battered by an ongoing criminal investigation and calls for his resignation. Many may find it politically hazardous to align themselves with the deeply unpopular Paterson. However, others deny that the governor has any bearing on their decision to support a final budget.

As Maisel put it, “Paterson has no political situation anymore,” adding, “It doesn’t exist.”

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