New York Gov. David Paterson is once again threatening to call lawmakers into a special session, to finish the state budget, which is now 15 weeks late, and other unresolved issues.
Before Paterson can call the legislature back into a special session, he first is trying to put to rest a dispute over whether he actually has the power to order the Senate and Assembly back to Albany.
The governor called the legislature into an extraordinary session, on January 17, to consider legislation to qualify for the federal Race to the Top education funds. Lawmakers, who no longer wanted to be called to return to the Capitol on the whim of the governor, pulled a technical maneuver to prevent Paterson from calling another special session. They decided that they would just keep the extraordinary session open, and never formally adjourn it. When one special session is in effect, they reasoned, the governor couldn’t call a new one.
Paterson calls those claims “spurious.” But he nevertheless has now revoked the special session from January 17, as well as another special session that he called on June 26 of this year. His spokesman, Morgan Hook, says the way is now clear for the governor to once again summon lawmakers back.
Paterson has called a number of special sessions since he became governor more than two years ago. In most cases, though, while he has successfully commanded lawmakers to return to Albany, Hook concedes that the governor has not managed to persuade them to actually pass the bills on the agenda.
“It’s a fine line between calling them back and forcing them to vote on something,” said Hook. “You do have a separation of powers here that’s important.”
It does not appear as though the legislature is any mood to agree this time, either, to pass specific bills.
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver acknowledges that the Assembly had been keeping the special session open without adjourning, but says the speaker has repeatedly said that if the governor wants lawmakers back in Albany at any time, then they will return.
Earlier this month, the Assembly, along with the Senate, refused to accept a new revenue bill from the governor, and the bills were left on the floor in a hallway outside the chambers.
The spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Austin Shafran, says it’s the governor who does not want to negotiate. In a statement, Shafran said “we don’t need a constitutional argument. We need a budget and an executive willing to work with the legislature to get the job done.”
Shafran says the Senate and Assembly leaders have been meeting between themselves to try to finish the legislative session.
The governor’s budget director, Bob Megna, says without the revenue bill, the budget is at least $1 billion short. He says as the weeks drag on without a revenue plan in place, it will be harder for the state to extract the savings it needs from the new taxes on clothing, fees from expanded gambling, and other items in the current fiscal year.
“It makes us very nervous,” said Megna.
Paterson’s spokesman would not say when the governor might call a new special session, saying only that it could come “soon.”