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Cuomo prepares Democrats for painful budget discussions

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Assembly Democrats from upstate and Long Island met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday morning at the Executive Mansion in Albany to prepare for the painful Feb. 1 budget.


"The meeting went very well," said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa. "It was a nice opportunity, in advance of the budget, to have the governor reach out to us and talk very candidly about what his perspective is."


The group discussed mandate relief, a property tax cap and what are widely expected to be drastic across-the-board cuts, among other matters.


Though Mr. Cuomo didn't get into much detail, he said that state operations would see significant cuts, Mrs. Russell said.


"That leads to concerns," she said, especially with the SUNY colleges and prisons in her district. Mr. Cuomo did not specifically mention SUNY or prisons, she said, but they make up part of the state operations.


Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy and other high-ranking advisers were on hand for the breakfast meeting, where fruit, bagels and muffins were served — a "very austere" breakfast, Mrs. Russell said jokingly.


It is the third such meeting that Mr. Cuomo has held with rank-and-file legislators. He also has held meetings with the leadership of the two chambers, said Josh Vlasto, Mr. Cuomo's spokesman. Last week, he met with Senate Republicans for a dinner of beef sliders, and the next morning he met with New York City-area Assembly Democrats over bagels and lox.


Senate Republicans representing the north country recalled a similar experience last week at an Executive Mansion dinner Jan. 18.


"He was trying to prepare us for a difficult road ahead," said Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.


Mr. Griffo added: "We obviously concur philosophically" on Mr. Cuomo's pledge for no new taxes and other agenda items.


He recalled Mr. Cuomo saying at the meeting that "This will be a breathtakingly bad budget."


Mr. Griffo said the sit-down was good legislative strategy. A senator for four years, Mr. Griffo has seen two previous governors fail to work well with the Legislature.


"I think we had three different types of personalities," Mr. Griffo said. "(Eliot L.) Spitzer was a destroyer. (David A.) Paterson was a cruise ship. And we need a tug boat. We need something that's going to bring us all in one direction."


State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, also attended the Jan. 18 meeting.


While the governor was short on specifics, she said, "He made it really clear that the budget is going to be really painful."


The state is facing an estimated $10 billion budget gap, and Mr. Cuomo's goal is to close it without resorting to tax hikes or borrowing.


Tuesday's meeting with upstate and Long Island Democrats apparently went better than the meeting Mr. Cuomo held with their New York City counterparts last week; media outlets widely reported a tense debate about the income tax surcharge on individuals earning more than $200,000.


Mrs. Russell described "constructive dialogue" at Tuesday's meeting.


"The most tense dialogue just revolved around technicalities of how we would actually make change," Mrs. Russell said. "Over what our role, legally, would have to be, in making systemic changes in New York state."


At the meeting, which about 30 Assembly members attended, she said, "There were not over-hostile points. It was very constructive. There were discussions, and we were trying to talk about the breadth of issues and not limit ourselves."

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