ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Days before one of New York’s toughest-ever state budgets is due, protests over education and social services cuts persisted and Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that the government could shut down if the Legislature gets in the way of his cost-cutting plans.
“If the Legislature fails to pass a budget on time, the government will not have the funds to operate, and it may be forced to shut down,” Cuomo said in a videotaped warning distributed over the Internet. “Even if the Legislature causes a shutdown of government, it will be only temporary, and will only delay, not derail, our budget’s final passage.”
Cuomo referred to the newfound power of a governor to impose a budget if the Legislature fails to agree to one by April 1, the start of the fiscal year. Lawmakers then would be left with a choice of accepting his budget as part of emergency appropriations or shutting down all but essential government services.
Cuomo’s stern warning came as a surprise to lawmakers, who haven’t raised the possibility of a shutdown.
“If you have power, I don’t think you have to flaunt it,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. “I think we all understand the governor has a tremendous amount of power. But the idea is to use your power to govern and effect a compromise and get a result. That’s what leadership is about.”
Skelos said, “There’s no reason for a government shutdown.” He also said he hasn’t even focused on the possibility.
Legislative leaders insist progress is steady, even ahead of schedule, and that a budget could be passed early. Albany hasn’t seen an early budget since 1983, during then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s first term. Twenty-seven of the last 36 have been late.
Skelos also was pushing a new, late counterproposal into closed-door budget negotiations that he said would protect upstate communities from what he called unfair treatment in the last round of prison closings. Skelos said his plan, to be presented to Cuomo on Wednesday, would reduce the number of prison beds by a little over 3,500 and involve closing five or six facilities, including one in New York City.
“Certainly the city would be one of the options,” Skelos said. He said some of the beds would be closed in prisons in Republican-represented districts, unlike a year ago when Democrats controlled both the Senate and Assembly and prison closings were only in Republican Senate districts.
Cuomo has proposed reducing the number of beds in the state’s minimum and medium security prisons to better match a decline of 20 percent in the prison population over the last 11 years. He says 3,500 of the total 36,400 can be eliminated, saving $72 million in 2011-12. His plan would save $5 million more by reducing administrators. He hasn’t identified the prisons, leaving that to a special panel and his corrections commissioner.
Meanwhile, an uncommon level of protest continued at the Capitol, some outside the door of the governor, who was out of town at the time presenting his budget at Syracuse University.
About 50 protesters outside Cuomo’s office decried his cuts to housing aid for people living with AIDS and HIV. They chanted, “Save housing! Save lives!”
A floor above, outside the Senate parlor, teachers and education advocates opposed Cuomo’s planned 7.3 percent cut to school aid.
“I think it’s unfair,” said Jose Gonzales of the Bronx, one of hundreds of protesters for social services and education. They urged Cuomo to accept a proposal by Assembly Democrats for a higher income tax for New Yorkers making more than $1 million a year.
Cuomo and the Senate’s Republican majority strongly oppose that. They call it a blow to employers that would slow an economic recovery.
Cuomo said most schools have reserves to blunt the cut and further cutting of waste and fraud in schools would minimize the pain and avoid teacher layoffs.
“We are asking the legislators to protect our children, not millionaires,” Gonzales said. “What is the message to our children?”
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