Paterson urges cuts to health care, school aid

Gov. David Paterson speaking at the Vision Long

Gov. David Paterson speaking at the Vision Long Island Meeting at the Melville Marriott. Melville, New York. (Maria Lopez/Newsday) (Credit: Maria Lopez/newsday/Maria Lopez)

Gov. David A. Paterson, speaking in Great Neck Sunday morning, repeated his call for state legislators to pass midyear budget cuts to health care and school aid, saying failure to do so would be "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Paterson's warning came after a scholarship event at the Great Neck Synagogue. In the crowd were state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who said he believes the budget deficit is even worse than Paterson's estimate of $3.2 billion, and state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), one of several state senators who oppose the spending cuts.

Paterson said that failure to reduce spending would be "a worst-case scenario" that would increase next year's projected $6.8-billion shortfall.

Meanwhile, the governor and legislative leaders continued Sunday to negotiate a deficit-reduction plan, but no deal was announced Sunday night. In an open letter to rank-and-file lawmakers, Paterson warned of the "dire fiscal consequences" of inaction on the deficit and signaled he would not be moved away from school and Medicaid cuts.

Lawmakers convene Monday for the third week of special session.

In Great Neck Sunday, Paterson insisted school aid and Medicaid, which account for 55 percent of state spending, could not be spared. To do so would risk a downgrade in the state's credit rating and another deficit opening up before the end of the fiscal year on March 31, he said.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Senate's Democratic majority, said, however, that it opposed school aid cuts and reductions in health care spending that would lower federal reimbursements.

"Talks are continuing with all sides and we're still optimistic that we'll be able to reach an agreement this week," he said.

The Senate's Republican minority was pessimistic. "There haven't been any negotiations that we are aware of," said John McArdle, a top aide to Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the minority leader.

The Great Neck event came a day after Paterson cited an unidentified lawmaker who, the governor said, referred to himself as a "hero" for opposing school aid cuts. Sources told Newsday Paterson was referring to Johnson.

Paterson, who has declined to name the lawmaker, said Saturday that the "hero" comment was shortsighted because failure to cut spending could damage the state's credit rating.

From the podium Sunday, however, the governor referred to Johnson as "dynamic." And before the event, Johnson said he did not think Paterson had criticized him.

But the two remained far apart on education aid. Paterson said cuts could help avoid "gutting" schools down the road.

Johnson said school cuts could result in higher property taxes. "I won't put kids and parents, and especially taxpayers, at risk."

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