ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that pension reform had to be included in the state budget or he would risk a shutdown of the government.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Cuomo cast the issue as a fight between taxpayers and unions that oppose the defined contribution plan.

"Pension reform goes right at the heart of the beast," the governor said. "This is the central power struggle of Albany, and the current pension system is great for the people who are in it, but it is an abject failure for the citizens and the taxpayers of the state."

If the budget is not passed by the April 1 deadline, Cuomo said he could force the issue through budget extender bills that legislators would have to pass or the government would shut down.

Former Gov. David A. Paterson used these emergency spending bills to pass his budget in his final year in office when lawmakers could not agree on the whole package.

Earlier this week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) told the New York Daily News said he had issues with the governor's Tier VI pension proposal, which would give new government employees the option of a less-generous defined benefit plan or a 401K-type defined contribution plan.

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A spokesman for Silver said in an email that Assembly Democrats would discuss Cuomo's proposal and formulate their own budget in the near future.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli defended defined benefit plans in an op-ed published in Wednesday's Daily News. DiNapoli said Cuomo's proposal gave workers a "false choice" and was designed to steer workers toward 401K plans that are riskier and have higher fees.

DiNapoli said in a statement late in the day that changes to the pension system should be based on "a factual, thoughtful and inclusive discussion about the level of benefits and ways to reduce abuse."

Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said the governor's proposal was being reviewed.