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Eighteen years and counting: on-time budget is out of question

By JOEL STASHENKO
Associated Press Writer

March 25, 2002, 6:35 PM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Fiscal experts in the state Legislature and Gov. George Pataki's office prepared emergency spending bills Monday in formal acknowledgment that a new state budget won't be adopted on time for the 18th straight year.

The bills will appropriate money on a stopgap basis to meet state obligations between the April 1 start of the 2002-03 fiscal year and April 10, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said.

Lawmakers planned to pass the appropriation bills before leaving Albany on Tuesday for their traditional Easter-Passover break. They're due back in session April 8.

In the meantime, legislative leaders met for about 90 minutes privately with Pataki at the Capitol. They reported making little progress toward agreeing on how much in revenue the state will have and what areas to fund above the spending proposals included in Pataki's 2002-03 executive budget.

"It's very troublesome and it's very, very difficult," state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said. Silver said, "We are trying to find the available resources to do the things that we think are important to do."

"We're having a difficult time," Silver said. "It is a difficult year."

Under a state law designed to hasten the budget-adoption process, the Legislature and governor are supposed to have an agreement on available revenues each year by March 10. There are no penalties for failure to adhere to that deadline, however, and it is routinely ignored by state leaders.

The governor and Legislature seemed to make progress toward agreement on the next budget early in 2002, especially on health-care spending issues.

But they conceded that talks have slowed in recent weeks amid worries over state tax collections so far in 2002 and lawmakers' desires to provide more school aid and for other purposes than Pataki proposed in his $89 billion budget plan.

Bruno said Monday evening that there is disagreement between the state leaders about revenue collections.

"January and February were off a half a billion," Bruno said. "The question is what will March look like? We have differences of opinion. And then what will April look like? And we have differences of opinion."

Legislative fiscal analysts say New York will take in up to $600 million more through the end of this fiscal year and the 2002-03 fiscal year than Pataki is projecting.

The leaders planned another meeting Tuesday.

The Legislature and governor have not adopted a budget prior to April 1 since 1984, when Mario Cuomo was governor. The budget last year was not passed until Aug. 3, and Pataki continues a suit contending that the spending plan adopted by lawmakers in 2001 was not a constitutional budget.

Pataki and state leaders say both the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year are clouded by the effects of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11 and on the national economy.

Copyright (c) 2002, The Associated Press