The Republican near-majority in the state senate has sunk to new lows in the ongoing budget battle, but unlike the Democrats, they are catching no media flak.
Incredibly, 29 of them (with one absentee) voted as a bloc last week against the emergency budget extender that barely passed the senate. Had they prevailed, the state would have shut down, unable to pay its pressing costs, literally stranding patients on respirators. Republicans had voted for each of this year’s prior extenders, which began in April, after the Democratically controlled legislature failed to pass a budget on time. The GOP’s shock-therapy rationale for opposing the latest two-week extender was that they thought a train wreck was necessary to clear the tracks, bankrupting the state to get a budget passed.
Yet when the GOP controlled the senate in the 12 years that George Pataki was governor, 10 budgets were a total of 819 days late, some in crisis years, and the Democratic minority routinely voted with the Republicans to extend the budget 97 times, according to figures supplied to the Voice by Democratic state senator Liz Krueger. There was even a time when the GOP openly discussed voting on an emergency extension before the prior extension expired so they could enjoy a golf outing on the expiration date. Budgets were as much as 133 days late, and Joe Bruno, Dean Skelos, and company happily churned out extenders.
Of course, the Republican “no” votes on this extender allowed them to pose as defenders of the 100,000 or more state workers who might have faced one-day-a-week furloughs, costing them 20 percent of their earnings, a condition that Governor Paterson attached to the extension bill. As Krueger put it, though, the Republicans “voted to do a 100 percent furlough,” since without an extender, no state worker could have been paid at all.
Krueger also pointed out that back in March, 16 Republicans, with three more absent or abstaining, voted against a bill that continued the state’s routine repayment of its debt obligations. Krueger said at the time, “For years, Senate Republicans fed off taxpayers, amassing a colossal debt,” which she says nearly doubled between 1997 and 2008 to $54 billion. “Today they refused to pay the bill.” Skelos and a handful of other Republicans voted for the debt service bill, despite arguments on the floor from the likes of Long Island senator Carl Marcellino, who said: “Yes, we’ve done it in the past. It was wrong. Let’s not continue to do the same-old, same-old and end up with the same bad results,” presumably a reference to the years when he and the GOP gang ruled the roost.
Marcellino got on the phone with the Voice today to reiterate that argument and to contend that the debt bill provided $3 billion more than the immediate debt payments required, an argument that some of the GOP naysayers made during the March debate. The budget office and Senate Democrats contest that number and insist that the bill — which, of course, Skelos voted for — contained no new debt financing. Even Marcellino conceded, though, that prior debt bills had done the same thing (“It’s true,” he said), but said he voted no now and yes then because “there was money then” in the state till. The debt service bill passed unanimously in 2008, and eight Republicans, including Marcellino, voted against it in 2009.
Krueger says that Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver has been the roadblock to bipartisan conference committees on the budget, a new procedure mandated by a 2007 reform bill. “So the Democrats in the senate passed a budget proposal with all the Republicans voting against it,” says Krueger. “We said to the Republicans give us your budget resolution. We can conference your proposal and our proposal. They won’t give us a proposal. Even the Republicans in the assembly put in a budget proposal, but the Senate Republicans haven’t.”
The irony is that state GOP leaders, from Skelos to Rick Lazio, have been blasting Andrew Cuomo, the putative Democratic gubernatorial candidate, for failing to say how he’d solve the budget crisis, though, as AG, he has no legal role to play in the budget process. But the Senate Republicans, the pinnacle of party power in the state for decades and primed to retake the majority in November, have so far skated through the budget battle without any real plan of their own, voting against the most obvious necessities, like the extender and debt service repayment.
Research: Alana Horowitz, Bill Kline and Scott Greenberg