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State Legislature approves emergency budget bill, averts government shutdown

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By WBFO News

Albany, NY – The State Legislature Monday approved an emergency spending bill that will keep the government operating for another week. Legislators averted an unprecedented shutdown of state government that would have idled many of the state's 200,000 workers and disrupted or suspended nonessential services including running lottery games and paying unemployment and welfare benefits.

The Senate, where Democrats hold a razor thin majority, voted 34-27 to approve the bill that easily passed in the Assembly. The Democratic leadership in the Senate reined in one member - Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx - and appeased another - Senator Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. Diaz won a $188 million restoration of funding Monday, most of it federal and about $18 million of which will go to Diaz's concerns to keep senior centers open in poor neighborhoods in New York City.

The Senate's Republican minority gained a voice in budget talks and agreed to end its bloc voting against emergency spending bills as some of its members representing large segments of state workers took election year heat from Democratic challengers.

"I think that we had come to a realization that we cannot talk about government shutting down," said Senate Democratic leader John Sampson of Brooklyn. "I think Albany realized that we've heard the voice of the people and the people have expressed their concerns about our inability to put them in a position of certainty. I think people want certainty from their elected officials."

Governor David Paterson proposed an emergency bill that would have trimmed more than $300 million in human service and mental health programs. Paterson is scheduled to appear on Tuesday's Capitol Pressroom at 1pm on WBFO.

Despite the attempt at appeasement, Diaz surprised many Democrats by voting against the bill. He set up another potential showdown over an emergency bill next week if there is still no agreement on a state budget. "I'm going to make a lot of people angry because of my vote," Diaz said from the floor. "I'm not voting for cuts today and not next week. I am a Democrat and I will not cut more benefits for people," he said. "I'm willing to take the consequences."

Republican Senators Hugh Farley of Schenectady County, Roy McDonald of Saratoga County and Charles Fuschillo Jr. of Long Island voted for the bills.

"Don't count on my vote for any more extenders," Farley said in an angry explanation of his vote on the Senate floor. "It's time to pass the budget. It is dysfunction on steroids."