STATE LEADERS EXIT ANGRY

ERIN DUGGAN Capitol bureau
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Thursday, June 24, 2004

New York's top lawmakers left no question Wednesday about what led to the breakdown of the legislative session: The three leaders cannot work together. Wednesday, senators were gone on a six-week break with no budget, no school funding agreement and relatively few major pieces of legislation passed. The Assembly said it wanted to keep working, but Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno called it a feeble attempt to mask the Assembly's refusal to negotiate earlier.


The blame, already flying furiously before the session ended, went to extremes.


Bruno implied it would be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's fault if there's another terrorist attack because of inaction on anti-terrorism legislation. Silver accused Gov. George Pataki of targeting young children in his spending cuts. Pataki said the Assembly has done nothing.


``For every bill that I mentioned that there has been three-way agreement,'' Pataki said, ``there have to be three or four important pieces of legislation where the Assembly has yet to act. And, they are in session today. My message would be, it's not too late.''


Silver kept the Assembly in session Wednesday, a day longer than was scheduled. Bruno called it posturing, not producing legislation. An hour later, Silver called for joint legislative meetings on a dozen major issues between now and Aug. 2, the next budget deadline.


``Once again the governor has demonstrated his inability to lead,'' said Silver, calling for legislators to keep working. ``Let's keep the lights on. Let's keep meeting.''


Both Pataki and Bruno scoffed at Silver's suggestion. They said the six weeks until the next budget deadline isn't a vacation for lawmakers, but a time to get more work done.


``The call for conference committees, after the final session date they helped schedule, is unfortunately a feeble attempt to draw attention away from the fact that they refused to negotiate on any issue, especially the state budget,'' in the absence of a plan to reform school aid, Bruno said in a statement.


The state is under court order to address education aid to New York City by July 30 in a case brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Legislators and the governor failed to agree on a plan, which is expected to cost in the billions.


The governor said Silver's effort is too little, too late.


PATAKI ``For the Assembly to say `Look how good we are, we're still here,' well, they were here in February, they were here in March, they were here in April and May, and they have done virtually nothing,'' Pataki said.


One thing all three men agreed on is that it's not too late to get work done. In the final hours of session Tuesday, four bills were agreed on: creating the Albany Convention Center Authority, expanding DNA collection, establishing the Niagara River Greenway Commission and increasing benefits for National Guard members.


None of the leaders said they want to see the CFE lawsuit and the allocation of state aid be handled by a court-appointed special master, which will happen if the July 30 deadline passes. They said they're still hopeful an agreement can be reached on issues such as anti-terrorism legislation, mental health coverage, and the budget.


But it is unclear how the impasses on the bills in each house will be bridged. Silver said conference committees, which would bring more members back to Albany, would be an open, public way to reach resolution.


Bruno said he won't call his members back until they have something definitive to vote on.


That would mean closed-door meetings between the leaders and their staffs. Those kinds of deals have been reached successfully in the past after the end of the formal legislative session.


Last year, for example, the Senate passed a bill to clean up the state's most polluted sites in September, after it passed the Assembly in June. The governor signed the bill soon after.


Wednesday's reaction from the three top leaders indicates this won't be an easy summer.


Some Democrats are concerned they'll be called back to Albany in the last few days before the budget extension runs out, which coincides with the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Bruno said he heard speculation that the Assembly might delay passing a budget until September, to embarrass Pataki during the Republican National Convention in New York City at the end of August.


Pataki, who last year watched as the Legislature passed its own budget over his vetoes, said he's not concerned about how he'll look to a national audience.


``My goal is to be the best governor I can be for the state of New York,'' he said. ``My concerns are not about my personal image somewhere in the country, my concern is about the impact the actions we take have on my family's life and the lives of families across this state.''