Paterson backs off plan to raise cigarette tax

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson this morning backed down from plans to include tax hikes, including a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette levy, in next week’s emergency appropriation bill.

A day after administration officials said Paterson would put his plans for raising taxes in Friday’s legislation, the governor retreated in the face of growing uncertainty over whether there will be enough votes in the State Senate to pass the emergency bill.

If it fails, the government would lack the authority to spend money, leading to a shutdown of agencies and halt in state payments on everything from government salaries to hospital reimbursements.

Gov. David A. Paterson

Gov. David A. Paterson

Including the tax increases would ensure that all Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Senate would vote against the bill, Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos said.

The Senate has 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans, and 32 votes are needed to pass the emergency bills. Two Democratic senators, dubbed as “rogues” by Paterson, this week said they plan to vote against the emergency bill next week, and Republicans in a united bloc have been voting against the measures.

Presumably to entice some Republicans to vote for the measure, Paterson this morning — during a public meeting with legislative leaders — said he would not include any tax hikes in the bill that is due to be voted on Monday. It would be the 11th emergency bill needed to keep the government running since the fiscal year began April 1 without a budget in place.

In the face of the threat by the two senators — Majority Leader Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz, both from the Bronx — Democrats began an advance campaign trying to blame Republicans if the government shuts down next week. Republicans dismissed the attempt as a public relations move by Democrats, who are in control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

“This is a failure of Democratic leadership in this state,” Skelos said of the Democrats. He said he could not say how Republicans would vote on the bill Monday until the governor makes his plan public on Friday.

Paterson insisted he wasn’t absolving Senate Democrats of their responsibility, but said Republicans would be a part of a “dangerous” maneuver to shut down the government if the bill fails next week.

All the talk of an emergency bill is because a full budget has not yet been adopted. In a contentious public meeting this morning, the sides made no progress in settling differences.

The governor suggested he will include the tax increases in the following week’s emergency bill. He said this week’s measure will include, as threatened Monday, to include an array of cuts to mental health and human services programs. The following week, Paterson administration officials said, the governor plans to include his $1.4 billion cut plan for public schools — a measure certain to generate more confrontation if a full budget deal is not reached by then.


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