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Democrats won't detain lawmakers to pass state budget

ALBANY - Leaders of the legislature's Democratic majorities Wednesday rejected Gov. David A. Paterson's request they keep rank-and-file members in the Capitol until a budget is adopted.

The 2010-11 spending plan is now 15 days late and government is running under weekly emergency appropriation bills. The State Senate and Assembly must pass another when they reconvene on Monday.

"I'm not going to increase expenses on the state by keeping our members here," Senate chief John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) said, referring to reimbursement for hotels and food.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) added that having rank-and-file lawmakers pass bills "not related to the budget really doesn't do any good." He predicted a budget deal is at least a week away.

Legislative staff will continue negotiating with Paterson's team. However, there have been few sessions between the governor and leaders since the April 1 budget deadline.

Paterson, in a Newsday interview on Tuesday, said keeping the 210 lawmakers in Albany would spur progress on the budget. He didn't rule out compelling lawmakers' attendance if their leaders dismissed his request. Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said there were no plans to call special sessions before next week.

Legislators still balk at Paterson's proposals for spending cuts and a new tax on sugary beverages. However, the leaders insisted progress was being made on school aid and property tax relief, though they declined to provide details.

A nasty fight occurred in the Senate over conference committees, where rank-and-file members from both houses attempt to resolve differences in rival budget resolutions. The committees, required by a 2007 law, haven't occurred for the past two years.

The Senate GOP has complained of being shut out of talks. Responding to the criticism, Senate Democrats staged a public meeting that was boycotted by Republicans. Accusations then flew at dueling news conferences.

Five Democratic senators, including Craig Johnson of Port Washington and Brian X. Foley of Blue Point, sent a letter to Sampson and Silver requesting that the committees begin immediately.

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