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Albany lawmakers poised to approve budget cuts; same-sex vote looms

ALBANY -- Lawmakers were poised early this morning to approve their own deficit reduction plan that Gov. David A. Paterson reluctantly accepted - though it fails to completely stanch the red ink.

The Assembly was expected to begin voting after 3 a.m. while the State Senate will take up the bills at 10 a.m.

More than half the $2.8-billion savings plan consists of steps Paterson began to implement unilaterally on Sunday. These include a $484-million reduction in spending by state agencies, taking $200 million from the Battery Park City Authority and $300 million in lower drug reimbursement costs and putting off health care expenses.

But the lawmakers' plan has no midyear cuts to education aid and Medicaid, the sticking point in negotiations to close the $3.2-billion deficit. The plan could impact schools by using $391 million in federal stimulus money slated for 2010-11.

Once the deficit bills are passed, senators will consider measures Wednesday already approved by the Assembly. Momentum is building for a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage. But Democrats appeared to lack the Republican support needed for passage in a chamber they hold by just two seats.

Of Long Island's nine senators, only Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) backs same-sex marriage and six Republicans are opposed, a Newsday survey found last month. Sens. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) and Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) remain on the fence.

The Assembly passed the marriage bill 86-51 at 12:40 a.m. It was the third time since 2007 that the measure was adopted by the lower chamber.

Earlier Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) blamed Senate opposition to midyear cuts in school aid for scuttling a deal with Paterson. "We couldn't achieve a closing of the entire deficit because it required both houses to do," Silver said. "At some point, we accept the political reality and do what we can do," he added, referring to talks that stretched for more than month.

Paterson signaled his displeasure but said he would take what he could get. He will cut spending by an additional $400 million or so by withholding payments next month to school districts, police, hospitals and others.

Silver and other legislative leaders "have told me this is as far as they're going to go," Paterson said. "Well, it's not far enough . . . [but] I will accept it."

This is the first time since Paterson took office in March 2008 that he and lawmakers have failed to reach agreement on wiping out deficits. They've reduced spending increases in two budgets by billions of dollars. The recession, however, has depressed tax collections. Lawmakers were secretive about what's in their plan, saying only that it includes about $600 million in cuts to education and health care services, $33 million to local governments and a $250-million tax amnesty.

Senate Democratic conference leader John Sampson of Brooklyn said, "The key here is to make sure our bond rating doesn't go down, that we have the available cash" to pay bills this month.


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