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Guv warns Legislature of ‘winter of reckoning’

Gov. David Paterson struck a somber note in his second State of the State address as he chastised special interest groups and legislators alike following a year of ballooning deficits and bitter conflict.

“This is a winter of reckoning,” he told the combined state Senate and state Assembly, announcing his address would cover “the state of our self-governance, a fragile instrument of popular will that has become the will to be popular.”

As expected, the embattled governor laid out an ambitious plan for the next year, including major ethics reform, term limits for state offices and ending the controversial Empire Zone business incentive program.

Paterson also touted his work to increase the number of state contracts awarded to eligible companies run by minorities.

He warned he would continue to veto bills and delay payments to ensure the state does not run out of money. After much negotiating, the Senate approved $2.7 billion in budget cuts at the beginning of last month as the projected deficit swelled to more than $3 billion.

“We have to accept that the old way of doing budgets is unsustainable,” he said. “And so is the special interests who intimidate, who badger, who push when they don’t get their way even when they know the cupboard is bare. That time of politics has to end.”

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) greeted Paterson’s pledges with skepticism.

“Gov. Paterson talked a lot about fiscal restraint, but we’ve heard that speech before,” Skelos said in a recorded speech. “Last year, he gave a similar speech and promised to hold the line on spending and not raise taxes. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”

Skelos also called for a spending cap, but did not address any of Paterson’s ethics reforms items.

Paterson’s speech was occasionally interrupted by faint applause, perhaps reflecting his low popularity among legislators whom he lambasted repeatedly in the monthlong deadlock following the June Senate coup that saw two Democratic lawmakers briefly defect to the GOP.

Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said he appreciated Paterson’s dire tone.

“I believe it was appropriate for him,” Peralta said. “He needs to sort of stand tough and say, ‘Hey, we need to deal with our issues in-house.’”

But Peralta pointed out that both chambers of the state Legislature have been working independently on bills offering many of the reforms Paterson outlined.

“I think his strategy ... was to put everything including the kitchen sink at us because he knows he’s going to have to sit down and negotiate many of these points,” Peralta said.

Democratic Senate Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) did not specifically mention Paterson in a statement released the same day as Paterson’s speech, but his meaning appeared clear.

“New Yorkers are angry and so am I,” Sampson said. “The people want statesmen to fix our problems, not politicians who ascribe blame without offering a solution.”

Sampson pledged to make passing ethics reform the first priority of the new session.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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