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Budget impasse could shut New York down

It’s a game of chicken set to end at midnight Monday with angry New Yorkers caught in the middle.

The state government could literally shut down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday if a band of lawmakers refuse to pass the governor’s week-long emergency spending bill that calls for year-long cuts to human services and other programs. For New Yorkers, that could mean everything from a freeze in unemployment checks to a halt in the Mega Millions lottery.

“If they can’t even keep the damn lottery running, they have some serious issues,” said Gary Workman, 36, of the Bronx.

Without a state budget agreement since April, Gov. David Paterson has been taking a piecemeal approach, last week forcing through an extension bill that slashed more than $750 million in health care programs. Today, he will be calling for the passage of another emergency legislation with $327 million in spending cuts. In upcoming weeks, Paterson may include a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase.

“I think frankly the pressure is forcing the legislature to do the responsible thing,” gubernatorial front-runner candidate, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, said at the Puerto Rican Parade Sunday.

However, a showdown today may be inevitable. The state Senate needs 32 votes to pass the bills, and all 30 Republicans and two Democrats - Sens. Rubin Diaz Sr. and Pedro Espada Jr. — have vowed to oppose them.

“I’m defending the needy and the poor,” Diaz said.

But the poor will be exactly those impacted if the state shuts down, as the potential fallout includes freezing payments for public benefits programs.

The legislators “risk subjecting the public to unimaginable pain that’s unnecessary,” Paterson said yesterday.

Spokesmen for the state Democratic majority and the GOP said that the two sides have no intention to see the state come to a standstill.

The feds and other state governments have shut down during budget impasses, but not New York. The city has plans in place if the worst case scenario should happen, a mayoral spokesman said, though he did not detail what those were.

The chaos would not sit well with the public, who will likely blame lawmakers just as the 2010 Senate elections are gearing up, political strategists said.

“This whole thing just stinks of Albany’s incompetence,” said Flatbush resident Jessie Grossnickel, 31.

(Tim Herrera contributed to this story.)

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Possible impacts of a state shutdown:
- No unemployment checks for 565,000 New Yorkers
- Welfare and food stamp payments would be frozen
- State employees would not get paid as of June 23
- No New York lottery games
- State parks, campgrounds and unemployment offices would close
Source: State Comptroller’s office, Associated Press

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