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Again: deadline, no budget Albany --
As fiscal year begins, lawmakers fail to reach deal for 18th year


First published: Monday, April 1, 2002

Optimism that a budget deal will be struck within a few days of today's arrival of the new fiscal year has faded once again. After the past few weeks, as legislative leaders and Gov. George Pataki repeatedly demonstrated that seemingly minor differences would not be quickly resolved, several long-standing legislative officials said they could not guess when this year's budget will be passed.The state today marks its 18th consecutive year of missing the budget deadline.Three government-reform groups -- Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group -- planned to note the occasion with a mock birthday party, complete with cake and decorations.The budget completion date likely will be only a few weeks late and not compete with the 126-day record for tardiness set in 1997 and matched in 1999, political watchdogs said."This is not easy,'' Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said. "We're trying to forecast the economy of this state for the next two years, and we have one impression, the governor has another and the speaker has another. Who here knows what we're going to look like at the end of the year? Who knows what we're going to look like next year?''Complications holding up the process include Pataki's relatively pessimistic outlook for revenues. He is expecting at least a $5.7 billion shortfall in revenues for the new fiscal year."We have to be prudent,'' he said, pointing to hits from a softer economy and from devastation to New York's financial district from the Sept. 11 attacks.Senate Republicans believe the state will have $439 million more in revenues and can find $500 million in other reserves Pataki hasn't acknowledged.Assembly Democrats say the state will take in $599 million more than the governor's estimates, and they haven't tried to estimate the reserves other than to agree the Senate isn't off base.Plus, legislative leaders, particularly those in the Assembly, want more details on Pataki's plans for $10 billion to help rebuild lower Manhattan, $200 million for the newly created Office for Security and $750 million for an Economic Opportunity Fund for upstate job creation.No deal will be made this week because lawmakers are in the middle of an 11-day break and an emergency spending bill they passed gives them until April 10 before having to consider another budget extension.Under a law passed in 1998, lawmakers won't get paid until they adopt a new budget.Still, some budget watchdogs said the budget's completion date won't be too deep into spring, in part because this is an election year.Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters, said "It will be done probably by mid-April, or, at the very latest, the end of April.'' Among people interviewed, her prediction was the closest last year when she said Halloween could be the finish date; the final financial decisions for the past fiscal year were banged out in October."The whole process is tied up with redistricting, so it all depends which they want to get done with more quickly and with the least media attention,'' she said.Frank Mauro, director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, adds that he thinks a deal will get announced by the middle of the month and be wrapped up by early May.He said there doesn't seem to be any quarrel over about $300 million in new tax cuts set to begin this year, even though some economists suggest that deferring the breaks would make better sense.Much of the holdup in recent years stems from Pataki's veto of more than 1,000 items in the legislative budget worked out openly by the Legislature in 1998 but without including the governor. The Assembly in particular has been reluctant to move forward with a budget until it has an agreement with Pataki and assurances that he will not veto items in the settlement.