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Program lapse apt to cost millions

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Power for Jobs' 570 customers statewide will pay an estimated $10 million more for electricity every month because squabbling senators allowed the program to lapse.

The New York Power Authority suspended the program, which provides low-cost power to job-creating businesses, on Wednesday. Richard M. Kessel, the authority's chief executive officer, said his hands are tied until there is legislative action.

Sixteen customers in Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties now will be paying thousands, if not millions, more for the 10,285 kilowatts of electricity they traded for the promise of creating and keeping 5,039 jobs.

"It's very serious, and it's very real," said Randall B. Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of the Central New York. "We do expect job layoffs and possibly plant closings."

Mr. Wolken, whose group represents 330 companies employing 50,000 people in 19 upstate counties, said the cost of industrial power in New York is 40 percent higher than the national average. That fact, coupled with the recent economic slump, made this "probably the worst time possible" to drop this program, he said.

"We're urging them to continue to get on with it and pass this bill. We know it has bipartisan support," Mr. Wolken said. "All it takes is one courageous senator to do it."

Both Sens. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, identified extending Power for Jobs as a top priority.

Senate Democrats and Republicans, feuding since a June 8 struggle for control of leadership posts, held separate sessions at the same time June 23. Both sides claimed a quorum to hold votes. Democrats passed 14 bills, including the one-year program extender. The Republican-led coalition passed 85 bills, but did not vote on Power for Jobs. It wasn't even on its active list to take up.

Mr. Aubertine and his colleagues in the Democratic conference have argued they had a quorum again June 30, when Sen. Frank Padavan, R-Queens, tried to take a shortcut through the chamber as a session was starting and was marked "present" and therefore voting "yes" on all bills. Power for Jobs was passed again that day, Mr. Aubertine has said.

"We contend that the bill has passed and continue to work with the Assembly to deliver the bills to the governor and have them signed into law," said Andrew G. Mangione, Mr. Aubertine's spokesman.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly has not certified the legislation amid questions on the legality of marking Mr. Padavan present for a session the Queens Republican said he never intended to attend.

If senators do not persuade their Assembly colleagues to certify the pre-July 1 legislation and deliver it to the governor, Mr. Kessel said, lawmakers may have to start at square one.

"The Assembly legislation is an extender. But now there's no program" to extend, he said. "There's some real legal issues that have be dealt with here."

To create Power for Jobs again would require a new bill approved by the Assembly and Senate and signed by the governor. The Assembly is in recess and the Senate has had problems establishing a quorum during the power struggle. The process could take weeks or months.

Mr. Kessel and Mr. Wolken said the lingering uncertainty may convince businesses the program will not be re-enacted.

"And that's going to affect employees," Mr. Kessel said.

If Power for Jobs returns, both men said, their respective agencies support extending the program for more than one year at a time to allow businesses to better plan for their costs.

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