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Paterson, senators clash over emergency spending bills

ALBANY - The specter of state government shutting down next week has unleashed horse-trading over budget cuts, with state senators saying Wednesday they will vote for additional emergency spending bills if Gov. David A. Paterson accepts their ideas.

The flurry of activity began with a contentious public meeting at which Paterson admonished the Senate's Republican minority for opposing, as a block, recent emergency bills necessary to keep government running because of the late budget. If they do so on Monday, he warned, Albany would likely close because two "rogue" Democratic senators have said they will oppose the bills.

"Pass the emergency appropriations and perhaps that in itself will take the power away from those who shouldn't have it and vest it in those who believe in government," Paterson told Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre. Shutting government "jeopardizes the quality of life."

Skelos shot back that his 30-member conference wouldn't support tax increases or borrowing money to close this year's $9.2-billion deficit. He said they had been shut out of budget talks and requested that Paterson include in the next emergency bills about $419 million in Medicaid spending cuts pushed by the GOP.

Paterson promised to review the proposals but moments later derided them to reporters. However, in the afternoon Skelos emerged from a 10-minute private session with Paterson to say some Republicans now would back bills if their spending reductions were included.

"We're going to make solid recommendations to the governor" for spending cuts, Skelos said. "It's up to him to bring the Democrat majorities in both houses to agreement."

Still, the Bronx Democrats refusing to vote for more cuts - Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Pedro Espada Jr. - appeared unmoved last night, each telling Newsday he wouldn't support more reductions to Medicaid and other programs for the poor. The duo holds sway because Democrats have a one-seat majority over Republicans in the upper chamber. For the past month, Paterson's emergency bills have been adopted along party lines.

Senate Democratic chief John Sampson of Brooklyn assured reporters that Diaz and Espada would vote for the bills. "I will manage my members."

Last night, Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) entered the fray, calling on Paterson to include in next week's emergency bills a proposed cap on yearly increases in local property taxes.

Paterson clarified the bills will not include a $1-per-pack raise in the cigarette tax. However, he will propose $175 million in cuts to human services and $150 million to mental health.

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