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Legislature approves final budget bills, Paterson vetoes school aid restoration

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By Mark Scott

Albany, NY – The State Legislature approved remaining spending bills to complete action on the 2010-11 fiscal year budget. Lawmakers restored $600 million in state school aid to local districts. But Governor David Paterson immediately veoted $419 million of that increase and said more vetoes are coming.

Democratic leaders of both houses were unable to say how much the budget will cost state taxpayers.

Republican State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer of Clarence said it was "just astounding."

"No one would buy a car without knowing how much it costs," Ranzenhofer said.

Paterson said lawmakers are trying to spend money that the state does not have -- and challenged the legislature to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto.

"I'm doing it because it's right for the state and hopefully it will bring our budget eventually into balance," he said. "What the Legislature does with it is the Legislature's prerogative, and I'll await their consideration. But they will have to override about 6,900 vetoes."

He referred to all the additional $500 million in spending and policy changes the Legislature added to his budget proposal from January as well as $190 million worth of pork-barrel grants that lawmakers send back home to their districts, an important tool in election years like this one.

"I never take any joy in vetoing education money, health care, services for the poor and the indigent," Paterson said. "It breaks my heart to do this."

He said the reason for doing it was that "to do otherwise would be proverbially kicking the can down the road and creating a greater problem."

He called the major elements of the budget approved Monday irresponsible and unbalanced.

The Legislature-approved budget did not include a State University of New York reform bill that would have given UB and other SUNY schools more autonomy to set tuition rates and enter partnerships with private businesses.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said vetoes will mean larger classes, higher property taxes and more expensive tuition at the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

"The budget passed by the Legislature would dramatically reduce state spending, restore funding for our schools and maintain our fundamental commitment to ensuring that SUNY and CUNY remain affordable for all New Yorkers," Silver said.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, of Nassau County, said Democrats had "broken their promise to the taxpayers and once again saddled them with spending they cannot afford."

But Republicans have refused to say how they would handle the threat of Paterson's vetoes. Given the hard partisan divide in the Senate, few if any overrides may even be attempted.