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Paterson renews tax cap, sugar tax plans

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson on Sunday announced he will force the Legislature to reconsider his proposed cap on local property taxes, a plan to allow the public universities to set higher tuition without legislative approval, a tax on sugary drinks and authorization to sell wine in grocery stores.

Paterson included his ideas, already rejected by the Legislature, in a session he called for Wednesday to finally close the state budget that was due April 1. The Democrat-led Senate needs to approve a single revenue bill to complete the budget.

“I know it’s summer and everyone is tired of this, but everyone is tired of this because they have acted unprofessionally,” Paterson told The Associated Press on Sunday. “At this point, I’m not in the negotiating mood … until the job is done, I think the Legislature is delinquent.”

Paterson said he is adding his previously rejected proposals to tax sugary drinks in part as a health initiative and to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores because the late budget means more revenue is needed. He said there is now less time to raise revenue and benefit from spending cuts in the proposed budget to address the current $9.2 billion deficit.

“We are running into revenue problems for the fourth time since September,” Paterson said. “I’m not particularly concerned with anyone’s schedules.”

Paterson also said the fiscal crisis will soon require negotiations for layoffs in the 200,000 employee work force.

“I think that becomes a real conversation now, because of the mammoth deficit we have,” Paterson said. “The layoffs conversation is one we have to have now.”

The agenda items include:

  • The revenue bill that the Senate needs to pass to finish the budget.
  • A contingency plan should Washington block $1 billion in Medicaid funding.
  • A cap on local school and government property taxes to growth of about 4 percent a year. New York City, Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo schools that are under control of city government are exempt. New York City would also be exempt from the cap on municipal taxes.
  • A plan to empower the State University of New York and City University of New York to approve tuition increases at campuses of up to 4 percent a year without the Legislature’s approval and to set tuition up to 7 percent higher at the university centers. The state’s Tuition Assistance Program grants would also increase.
  • A replacement for the Power for Jobs program that has expired. The new program would provide more accountability in providing lower cost electricity to selected employers to add or retain jobs.

Whether lawmakers take any action on Paterson’s non-budget items is uncertain. Under law, the Legislature must return to Albany when the governor calls an extraordinary session for which the governor sets the agenda. But the Legislature isn’t required to vote or even debate the issues.

As of Sunday, there were no agreements on Paterson’s policy proposals. Further discussions are expected before Wednesday’s session.

Paterson has called the Legislature back into session more than a dozen times, more than any previous governor in modern times. In response, lawmakers have sometimes conducted brief, perfunctory sessions without mentioning the governor’s agenda. The regular session ended in June and lawmakers had returned to their districts to campaign for the fall elections.

Senate leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, said in a written statement that he plans to take up the final budget item — the revenue bill. He said he hopes to also discuss property tax relief and Paterson’s plan to allow SUNY and CUNY to set their own tuition as part of a plan to help to universities become national academic powers.

The Senate failed to approve the remaining budget bill, a revenue bill, in June because two Democratic senators withheld their votes to try to gain approval of the higher education plan.

“The Senate is ready to finalize a fair and responsible budget and looks forward to working with the governor and Assembly to get the job done,” said Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson in a written statement.

Sisa Moyo, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said Assembly leaders would be talking with Paterson, Sampson and rank-and-file Assembly members.

“Our goal is to bring all issues to resolution,” she said.