Gov. David Paterson insisted this morning he has the legal authority to unilaterally delay payments to schools, local governments and health agencies if the Legislature will not reduce spending.
Paterson first announced the move Monday evening, upending what lawmakers thought was an agreement to eliminate about $2.8 billion of the state’s $3.2 billion mid-year budget deficit.
Legislative leaders had expected to start passing the budget deal today, but that is now uncertain after Paterson called off talks late Monday and has yet to send the budget bills to the Legislature for approval.
Paterson broke off negotiations after Democratic leaders in the Legislature privately presented Paterson a deficit-reduction plan that excluded cuts to education. Paterson has stressed that education cuts are needed to sustain the state’s long-term fiscal health.
Paterson said legislative leaders only offered about $600 million to $700 million in cuts to other programs, including health care. He had initially sought $1.3 billion in cuts, mainly to health agencies and schools.
Without significant budget cuts, Paterson said he would independently instruct the state’s budget director to delay payments to schools, hospitals and local governments in order to ensure the state has enough money to pay immediate bills. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, Paterson would seek to eliminate the money altogether.
Paterson has warned that the state faces running out of money later this month.
“If the Legislature won’t do it, if they won’t cut the amount that we actually need, then I will do it and take the consequences, but at least it will keep the state solvent,” Paterson said this morning on 1600-AM (WWRL) in New York City.
Lawmakers questioned whether Paterson can legally delay or cut payments that were approved in the current spending plan, which runs until April 1.
It’s unclear how much money would be delayed or cut. But Paterson said this morning it would be equivalent to the amount of cuts he has proposed. Last week, he proposed cutting schools by about 1.5 percent of their remaining aid for the fiscal year.