Legislative Stand-Off May Force Budget Negotiations Into Next Week

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The New York Sun

ALBANY – A legislative standoff over charter schools could force lawmakers to drag session-ending budget negotiations into next week, sources said late last night.

The Republican-led Senate is poised to pass a clean-up budget bill that includes lifting the statewide cap on charter schools to 250 from 100, sources said. Support for the bill in the Democrat-controlled Assembly is doubtful, and the House is expected to amend it by eliminating a charter school expansion and sending it back to the Senate.

If that happens, the Senate could either sign the amended bill or return to Albany next week for more negotiations. The session was scheduled to conclude last night.

By passing the governor’s clean-up budget bill, which involves billions of dollars of appropriations, the Senate is attempting to box the Assembly into a corner, sources said. If Democratic lawmakers don’t approve a charter school expansion, they run the risk of being blamed for holding up the budget.

Sources said Governor Pataki also has thrown in an incentive: He is prepared to give state teachers – and other public employees – a more lucrative pension package that is more in line with Assembly demands. The Democratic speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, is pushing for retirement incentives for employees who are 55 years old or older and have been on the job for at least 25 years. Such a retirement package could help reduce the teachers unions’ opposition to charter schools.

[The Associated Press reported from Albany that Mr. Pataki unexpectedly scrapped plans yesterday to appoint two politically well-connected women to what Democrats had complained were longer-than-legal terms on the state Workers Compensation Board.

The Republican governor withdrew the nominations from the GOP-led state Senate for the $90,800-a-year jobs in the face of opposition from Democrats and others.

“I just thought that while our lawyers are very sure we had the legal authority (to make the appointments), I just didn’t think it would be the right thing,” Mr. Pataki said.

The governor declined to explain his decision further.

Mr. Pataki had planned to appoint the women to terms that ran until the end of this year and then carried on for another seven years. Full terms on the board, which rules on worker’s compensation claims, are just seven years.

Democrats questioned the legality of the move and argued for leaving the appointments up to the state’s next governor. Polling has state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, well ahead in the race to replace Mr. Pataki.

The nominations of Ellen Paprocki and Lisa Wright cleared a Senate Finance Committee hearing earlier yesterday and had been sent to the full Senate for a possible confirmation vote. Then came word that Mr. Pataki was withdrawing the nominations.

Ms. Paprocki, the daughter of lobbyist John O’Mara, a top Pataki adviser, is already on the board. But Mr. Pataki had been trying to juggle which seat she held on the board to keep her in the job well after he his departure from office. Her current term expires at the end of next year. Ms.Wright, the wife of state Senator James Wright, a Watertown Republican, is a top official at the state Department of Transportation. The Wrights are in the process of divorcing. A spokesman for Mr. Pataki, David Catalfamo, said Ms. Wright would remain in her current state post.

State Senator Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat, said that while Ms. Paprocki and Ms. Wright are “both very competent,” the governor was wrong because he was, in effect, trying to appoint them to “two different terms,” the second ones beginning after he is no longer governor.

“It’s dumb. It’s piggy,” Mr. Breslin said.]

The New York Sun

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